I didn’t eat much potato soup growing up. I don’t remember doing it, anyhow. I do have memories of the soup that originate from one of my best friend’s Mom’s houses. This was a real neighborhood house. The mother of three girls, Cindy had a sort of open-door policy concerning all of the random friends that liked to hang around with her daughters. I knew that I could stop by whenever I wanted, that the front door and snack drawer would always be open and that I’d always be welcome. Sometime’s hanging out carried on into pizza night, or chili on Friday, or even donuts the next morning. And if we were really lucky, potato soup.
I hadn’t ever really tried my hand at recreating Cindy’s potato soup. I made a cabbage and potato soup recently that reminded me of her little house in my hometown, and of my good friend Nancy (congratulations on the new baby!!) and suddenly a wave of nostalgia washed over me. Luckily, it was right about this time that I bookmarked Food52’s recipe for rustic potato soup with fried almonds. I never would have thought to combine almonds and potatoes, but as it turns out, it was spot on. This was not Cindy’s potato soup. This was a new and modern version of it, which is actually exactly what I love about cooking. Finding the perfect new twist to that old, familiar dish. I’ve done it with lemon salt and sugar cookies, meatloaf molé and countless other dishes, so why not this one?
Rustic is the perfect word to describe this soup. But it’s also sophisticated. And surprising. And just plain, down-home delicious. It’s creamy and hearty and the added crunch of the little bits of almonds that didn’t quite get ground is heaven. The smokiness of the lardons and the silkiness of the leeks, the pure perfection of potatoes! I think this soup is my current favorite because unlike other soups, it really can stand alone as a meal both in it’s heartiness and in the satisfaction of taste buds. I didn’t feel the need to eat this with anything else, not even a perfectly browned grilled cheese. A big steaming bowl was all I needed.
Creamy potato, leek and lardon soup with fried almonds
Adapted from Food52
3/4 lb potatoes, cubed
3 medium leeks, roughly chopped
1/2 C lardons
1 C milk
1/4 C cream
1/2 t smoked paprika
1/3 C olive oil
1/2 C whole almonds
6 garlic cloves
4 C chicken broth
2 t red wine vinegar
First things first: in a dutch oven or other large pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic cloves and almonds and brown them for 4-5 minutes. Remove and let cool before pulsing them into a purée, adding a bit of extra olive oil if needed (you should end up with a thick paste).
In the same pan, add the lardons and cook for 3-4 minutes until they begin to brown. Toss in the potatoes and continue cooking for 5 minutes longer. Now add the leeks and cook this mixture for 6-8 minutes more, until the leeks begin to look translucent. Finally, add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer.
Take all but 2 T of the almond/garlic mixture and stir into the soup. Season with salt, pepper and paprika. Simmer the soup partially covered for 30-40 minutes. You’ll see that some of the potatoes will have disintegrated. Mash up a few more if needed to get a lovely, thick texture. Add the milk and cream, stir until incorporated. Now mix the remaining almonds and garlic with the vinegar and stir in at the last minute. Adjust seasoning and serve right away.