Sweet (Potato) Surrender

Growing up, one of my favorite meals my mom made was potato soup. This simple, rustic and richly filling soup was my mom’s version of my grandmother’s recipe, which stemmed from growing up in a small farming community outside of Munich. The ingredients of the original recipe are incredibly simple: potatoes, onion, celery, milk and chicken stock. While the ingredients may be sparse, the flavor and aroma of the soup are surprisingly rich. I’ve modernized the original recipe quite a bit, but I like to think the essence remains the same.

The secret to a great pot of soup lies not only in the ingredients, but in the pot itself. I have found that a heavy, enameled cast iron pot is the perfect medium. Enameled cast iron distributes heat evenly, preventing the dreaded “hot spot”, and is incredibly efficient in its heat retention. There are many brands out there to choose from, with prices ranging from surprisingly affordable to shockingly expensive. If you can afford to buy a good one, it will be a well-appreciated and well-used investment for many years.

Saturday morning, after a glance at the paper and a cup of coffee, I found myself at the farmers market. Among the vendors’ great offerings, David Dickey of Dickey Farms had something especially interesting – white sweet potatoes. I bought a pound of regular sweet potatoes and a pound of white ones, with mom’s potato soup recipe stewing in the back of my mind. A quick shopping trip later to gather the rest of the ingredients, I was ready to make a pot of soup to last us the whole weekend.

The recipe is simple. I started with the classic French soup base, mirepoix, which is a fussy word for a mixture of diced carrots, celery and onion, slowly sweated in butter. I added the diced sweet potatoes and gave the pan a quick deglazing with white wine (or in my case, Spanish Cava, which is what happened to be on-hand at the time… Quick deviation: My rule on cooking with wine is only cook with what you’re willing to drink – “cooking wine” is barely a step above vinegar – please, don’t cook with it). After adding the stock and the milk, along with a Parmesan cheese rind for extra flavor, I let the pot simmer for a while. I then blended the ingredients with a hand blender – a must-have kitchen tool for any foodie, from amateur to seasoned. Off the heat, I added the cream, and that was it – an amazing pot of soup in less than an hour!

No soup would be complete without some complimentary toppings. In keeping with the richness of the soup, I thought crème fraiche, pecans sautéed in brown butter, and shredded Arkansas bacon from Ozark Mountain Smokehouse would be the perfect accompaniment. The soup will serve two for at least two meals, is perfect for lunch or dinner, and is great with a side salad and a delicious hunk of crusty bread. Enjoy!

Sweet Potato Soup

2 Tbs. butter
1 small onion, diced
3 stalks of celery, with leaves, diced
3 medium carrots, diced
2 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 c. white wine
4 c. chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
1 1/2 c. milk
1 Parmesan rind (optional)
1 c. heavy cream

crème fraiche or sour cream, for serving
buttered pecans, for serving
crumbled bacon, for serving

Over medium-low heat, slowly cook the onion, celery and carrots in the butter for about 7 minutes, or until softened. Add the diced sweet potatoes and cook 5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the white wine. Let simmer until most of the wine has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock, milk and Parmesan rind, and slowly bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to low and let simmer for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are completely cooked through. Remove from the heat and fish out the Parmesan rind.

Using a hand blender, or working in batches with a food processor, blend the soup until smooth. Add the heavy cream. Serve with your choice of toppings.

If for some reason the slideshow doesn’t load, visit the entire set at Flickr.