They were in their own little container surrounded by cartons of normal-sized new potatoes. They were so small and helpless looking. Can potatoes look helpless? Whatever the case, I felt compassion and sympathy for them, and the longer I looked at them, the cuter they became. Couldn't you just imagine serving the prettiest, daintiest potato salad with these coin-sized potatoes cooked in chicken stock and dressed up in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, fresh herbs, perhaps bits of bacon and shreds of Parmesan cheese? Well, I did, and so I was seduced once again (who gets seduced by potatoes of all things!?) and I bought my second non-basil purchase and proved that Scott was right.
Once home, I set to work making strawberry basil sweet tea, homemade fresh salsa, and a S’mores cheesecake for the picnic. After the busy morning in the kitchen on Saturday I didn’t get another chance to think about my potatoes until dinnertime Sunday. I had a bunch of cabbage that needed to be used (it always seems that once I buy cabbage I’m constantly looking for ways to get rid of it. If you have a tasty cabbage recipe, please let me know!) and a stockpile of mediocre grapes in the fridge so I decided to make Chicken alla Vendemia with braised cabbage.
With the potatoes I decided to make a soup, leaving the potatoes whole, and serve it in shallow bowls mounding the potatoes in the center so they could be on display. The whole meal was delicious, but the soup was the star. If you want an elegant soup to impress this is it. I started with a leek and potato soup recipe that I had used last summer when I had bought leeks at the farmer’s market. (Leeks are members of the onion and garlic family. They have a very mild onion taste and are less bitter than shallots. Leeks can be found at most supermarkets year-round. If you are unfamiliar with leeks and would like to learn more click here or here.) I remember thinking that the soup was very good, but the addition of juicy meatballs could make it spectacular. After a quick search I decided to make a variation of Giada DeLaurentiis’ ground turkey meatballs and form them into tiny balls to match the size of the potatoes. The meatballs were delicious, flavorful and moist, and I even used lean white meat turkey! (For those of you who think turkey is flavorless, you have got to try this recipe.) To finish the soup off, I made rosemary croutons by tossing sourdough bread in olive oil, salt, and pepper, sprinkling on the rosemary, and toasting them in a dry skillet till browned and crunchy. The end result was a dish that had us savoring each bite in slow motion, trying not to miss any of the rich, or subtle, flavors.
Leek and Potato Soup with Turkey Meatballs and Rosemary Croutons
(This recipe makes double the amount you will need for the soup so use the rest in spaghetti the next night! )
1 small onion grated (this may sting your eyes if you have a potent onion, but it ensures that the onion is well cooked in the meatball and not overpowering)
3 garlic cloves finely minced
1 large egg
1/4 dried bread crumbs (I used Panko)
3 Tablespoons ketchup
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat leaf Italian parsley or rounded
1 Tbsp dried parsley
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano (if unavailable substitute Parmesan--so 1/2 cup Parmesan total)
1/2 teaspoon salt (use 1 tsp salt if substituting Parmesan for the Pecorino, this makes up for the loss of the sharp, saltiness that the Pecorino provides)
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 lb ground turkey meat (I use white meat to keep it "healthy")
3 Tbsp. olive oil
Combine the first 10 ingredients together and mix well. Add the ground turkey and mix again (I find getting in there with your hands works the best). Form turkey into balls, 3/4 inch in diameter for the soup or 1 1/4 inch for spaghetti. Heat a large skillet on medium-high heat with the olive oil. When oil is hot add a batch of meatballs and saute until browned on all sides. When done, transfer them to a paper-towel-lined cookie sheet. If the meatballs are 3/4 inch they should be cooked through at this point (if they are the larger meatballs for spaghetti finish cooking them in spaghetti sauce over medium-low heat simmering for 15-20 minutes). Meatballs can be made up to two days in advance and stored in the fridge. Reheat the meatballs slightly before adding to the soup.
Potato and Leek Soup
(Serves 6 as an appetizer or 4 as a light meal)
1 large or 2 small leeks, about 1 pound
2 bay leaves
20 black peppercorns
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tablespoons butter
2 strips bacon, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
5 cups chicken stock
1 1/4 pounds tiny new potatoes whole, or russet potatoes diced
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
3/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 to 3/4 cup creme fraiche or heavy cream (I went with whole milk because it is what I had on hand)
2 tablespoons snipped chives (optional garnish)
Trim the green portions of the leek and, using 2 of the largest and longest leaves, make a bouquet garni by folding the 2 leaves around the bay leaves, peppercorns and thyme. Tie into a package-shaped bundle with kitchen twine and set aside. (Alternately, tie 2 leek leaves, bay leaves, peppercorns and thyme together in a piece of cheesecloth.) If you have neither kitchen twine or a cheesecloth do as I did and improvise with a rubber band and a paperclip, worked like a charm.
Using a sharp knife, cut off the green leaves and the white "bulb" of the leeks and discard. You should be left with only the white stem and light green part of the leek. Halve the leek lengthwise and rinse well under cold running water, brushing the "leaves" apart with your thumb, to rid the leek of any sand. Slice thinly crosswise and set aside.
In a large soup pot over medium heat, melt the butter and add the bacon. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is very soft and has rendered most of its fat. Add the chopped leeks and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Add the reserved bouquet garni, chicken stock, potatoes (if pureeing, don't add if leaving them whole), salt and white pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are falling apart and the soup is very flavorful. In the meantime, if you have mini new potatoes and choose to leave them whole cook them now. Place them in separate pot and fill with water until potatoes are covered by one inch of water. Add 1 tsp of salt and bring this pot to a boil. Continue to boil until easily pierced with a fork, about 10-15 minutes. Drain water and reserve potatoes. If you have not already made the meatballs ahead of time now would be a good time to make them.
After the soup has simmered for 30 minutes, remove the bouquet garni and, working in batches, puree the soup in a food processor or blender. (Alternately, if you own an immersion blender, puree the soup directly in the pot.) Return soup to pot, add meatballs and potatoes and heat to rewarm the meatballs if necessary. Taste to adjust seasonings, ladle the soup into shallow bowls and swirl decoratively into each bowl 1 1/2 Tbsp. creme fraiche (or dairy product of choice). Serve immediately, with some of the snipped chives (optional) and croutons sprinkled over the top of each bowl of soup.
Day old bread
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and Pepper
Fresh or dried Rosemary
Cut bread into 1 inch cubes (crust and all) and drizzle extra virgin olive oil over. Toss to distribute the olive oil evenly on all sides. The bread should be lightly coated. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, toss croutons again and then sprinkle with rosemary (be generous with the rosemary as some will fall off the croutons). Toast croutons in a dry skillet over medium high heat until browned on all sides. Alternatively, spread croutons on a cookie sheet at bake at 400F for 15 minutes.