Do you remember the scene in the Bridget Jones's Diary when she makes leek soup? Lacking proper kitchen string, she ties the leeks with blue ribbon. Voilà: blue soup. Oh man, I love that movie. And it turns out, I love leeks, too. Of course, this is a dish that even the most rabid carnivore could love. You know why? Because it tastes like whipped, creamy mashed potatoes, but way better.
I've never had potatoes so creamy and flavorful. Potatoes--short, pale, starchy, and heavy--meet leeks: tall, lovely, subdued, and complex. You go lovely together--like Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy.
Not sold? Did I mention that the recipe calls for relatively little fat--at least compared to most mashed potato dishes, which direct you to dump the entire dairy aisle in the dish.My sister asked me if I thought this dish would work in a slow-cooker. The answer is no, unfortunately. See that brown top above, with all those crispy bits? That's flavor. I learned that from America's Test Kitchen. There's a woman chef on the show, I forget her name, but when making sauces and such she's always scraping the brown bits from the bottom of the pan to "find flavor." And, even though Christopher Kimball is fond of saying mean things about blogs, I recommend an online membership to their video clips. When I'm bored, I flip on an eight minute segment and, lookout, ten minutes later I know how to make a chocolate mousse. No blue soup for them.
The Simplest Potato and Leek Braise
3 medium or 2 large leeks (about 1 1/2 pounds trimmed of their leathery dark green tops)
1 1/2 pounds yukon gold potatoes (or other yellow-flesh potatoes)
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme (I used three teaspoons)
pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/4 cup chicken stock, heated to near boiling
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter (I used one tablespoon salted)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees
2. Trimming and washing the leeks: Trim the root ends and leathery green top parts from the leaks. You want only the whites and tender pale green parts. Slice the trimmed leeks lengthwise in half and then again into quarter. Chop into 3/4 inch pieces. Fill a large bowl with cold water and put the leeks in it. Swish the leeks around with one hand, then lift them out of the water, leaving any sand and grit behind, and drain in a colander. Repeat.
3. Preparing the potatoes: Peel and chop the potatoes cutting them into 3/4 inch chunks.
4. The braise: Put the leeks (it's ok if they are still wet) and potatoes in a shallow baking dish or gratin dish (a 10 by 14-inch oval works nicely, according to molly, but I used my dutch oven with a piece of foil under the cover to seal it). Add thyme, nutmeg, and season generously with salt. Toss with rubber spatula to make sure the potatoes and leeks are seasoned evenly. Pour over hot stock. Cover with foil and slide onto rack in the middle of the oven. Braise until potatoes and leeks are almost tender, about 45 minutes. Remove the foil, gently stir the potatoes and the leeks with a rubber spatula, and check the amount of liquid left in the pan. If there is barely any left, cover again with the foil. If the liquid comes halfway up the sides of the dish--or more, leave the foil off. Continue to braise until the potatoes are completely tender, about 20-25 minutes.
5. Browning the top: Remove the dish from the oven, and increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees. If you haven't already remove the foil from dish. Give the leeks and potatoes a stir, and pour over cream. Return dish to the oven, uncovered, and bake until the top is browned and bubbly and the cream is mostly absorbed, another 25 to 30 minutes. Let rest 5 to 10 minutes, and serve directly from baking dish.
"At times like this, continuing with one's life seems impossible... and eating the entire contents of one's fridge seems inevitable. I have two choices: to give up and accept permanent state of spinsterhood and eventually be eaten by alsatians... or not, and this time I choose not. I will not be defeated by a bad man and an American stick insect! Instead, I choose vodka. And Chaka Khan."