Saturday, March 19, 2011

Food for St. Patrick!

Ah St. Patrick's Day.  The time of year when all great things collide: March Madness, spring, the ability to wear all green without looking stupid, and drinking beer during the day without being judged.  I'm not Irish -- far from it actually.  I'm German, French, and some crazy mix of Scandinavian heritage.  All of those backgrounds come with some pretty excellent food traditions, but I wanted to try out some Irish recipes on this St. Paddy's day.  It was hard to find veggie friendly recipes -- the Irish love their beef stews and lamb.  Who can blame them, really?  So I settled on two comfort foods: Potato & Leek Soup and Irish Soda Bread.  Both of these recipes are from Cooks Illustrated with slight adaptations based on my own cooking experience (failures). 

Potato & Leek Soup
This soup turned out great -- thick and creamy without being overly heavy.  The bread addition to the recipe is key for making that happen.  And while I think the first step of making a "leek stock" really added a lot to the soup, it could probably be omitted for time and energy's sake and you'd still have a really great and tasty potato leek soup!

4 medium leeks, white & light green parts halved lengthwise, washed, and sliced thin; dark green parts halved, washed, and cut into 2-inch pieces (keep them separate and wash the dark green parts very well)
2 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
4 tbls unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
1 medium onion, chopped (about a cup of onion total -- I used a half of an onion)
1 small russet potato peeled, halved, and cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme or tarragon
1 large slice sandwich bread, lightly toasted and torn into 1/2 in pieces
Salt & pepper

Bring dark green leek pieces, stock, and water to boil in large saucepan.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes.  Strain through a fine mesh strainer, press on the leek pieces to get all of the stock out of the veggies.  Discard the leek pieces and set the broth aside.  Rinse out the pan.

Melt the butter in the now-empty sauce pan over medium low heat.  When butter foams, stir in white/light green leek pieces, onion, and 1 tsp salt.  Reduce heat to low, stir frequently and cook until veggies are softened -- about 10 minutes.  Increase heat to high, stir in reserved broth, potato, bay leaf, and herb sprig and bring to boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes.  Add toasted bread pieces and simmer until bread is saturated and starts to break down -- about another 5 minutes.

Remove and discard bay leaf and herb sprig (the leaves should have fallen off).  Transfer soup to blender in batches and process until smooth and creamy.  If necessary, strain soup through a fine mesh strainer to get any veggies that did not break down during cooking. 

Season with salt and pepper to taste, top with croutons or bacon if you prefer, and enjoy!
Makes 4 servings.

Irish Soda Bread
This bread is rustic and hearty -- a perfect complement to the potato and leek soup.  It's crunchy on the outside but ridiculously soft on the inside.  It's crazy easy to make and it also keeps for a while.  Wrap the leftovers in plastic and enjoy at your leisure.

3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup cake or pastry flour (you can use 4 cups of all purpose I'm sure -- it will just be a little heavier)
2 tbls sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 tbls unsalted butter (2 tbls softened and 1 tbls melted -- keep separate)
1 1/2 cups buttermilk*

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Whisk flours, sugar, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt in large bowl.  Work softened butter into mixture with fork or fingertips until mixture looks like crumbs, or until you can't see any big chunks of butter.

Add buttermilk and stir with fork until dough just comes together.  Turn out onto flour-coated surface.  Knead dough until it becomes cohesive and bumpy.  Don't knead until it becomes smooth -- you'll have a tough bread!  Just work it until most of the flour is incorporated into the dough.

Pat dough into a 6 inch round.  Place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or sprayed with non-stick spray.  (Bake in a cast-iron skillet for a crunchier bread.)  Cut a big "X" into the top of the bread.  Bake for about 40-45 minutes or until a knife in the center comes out clean.  Brush with melted butter and let the bread rest for 20 minutes.  Eat and enjoy.

*Food Tip: If you don't have buttermilk you can just "clobber" regular milk with an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar.  For every cup of milk, add 1 tbls of the acid.  I had to do that with this recipe because Whole Foods doesn't sell buttermilk.  (What?!)  So for the 1 1/2 cups of milk, I added 1 1/2 tbls of vinegar and let it sit for about 10 minutes before adding it to the dry ingredients.  It will curdle the milk a bit, which is fine, and you'll get the same outcome as regular buttermilk.  It'll be slightly less creamy, but it works in a pinch!

Ruby says "Happy St. Patrick's Day!"


  1. I loved the soup . Really creamy and a great blend of flavors. I added a dollip of sour cream to garnish the top. It was yummy. I was not able to taste the bread, but I will have to make a loaf soon.

  2. Christine was kind enough to let me try the soup and . . . YUM! It made me have lunch envy, though, which I never like. But I'll have to try out the soup next fall when our potatoes and leeks start arriving from the CSA!

  3. Leeks rock. I love raw, sliced leeks on sandwiches. Mmmm. I can't wait for the Nicollet Mall farmer's market to begin -- leeks might be my first purchase.