Use Leftover Root Vegetables to Make Potage

Potage — a dish that has been around since the Middle Ages — was one of the first decent meals I ever made. At the time, I didn’t know what to call it or its history, I just thought it was tasty — and I couldn’t believe it came from my kitchen. Actually, Julia’s kitchen. Having set out to learn to cook, I’d decided the way to do it was to work my way through “The Way to Cook,” by Julia Child. It was, and I did. And that first soup became a cornerstone of my home cooking repertoire. It is so delicious, easy and thrifty, you’ll want to make it, too.

What Is Potage?

A potage is simply a thick, smooth soup. Starch, in the form of long-cooked rice or starchy vegetables, gives it body. Everything gets thrown into the pot, cooked until it is very tender and then blended, puréed or mashed into creamy perfection and sometimes garnished to add flavor and texture.

Potage is most often made with vegetables, but can contain meat as well. Medieval recipes call for cooking stew meat until it is very tender, straining it, dicing it and returning it to the pot (I imagine it was like their version of chili, but without the kick). I prefer to add meat as a garnish, after the soup has cooked. A handful of cooked meat or vegetables and your potage would resemble the filling of a Pot Pie — comfort food at your fingertips.

One of the best things about potage is that it can be made out of most anything you have on hand – including the ends, skins and stems you would normally discard. The next time you are slicing mushrooms, trimming asparagus or stir-frying broccoli florets, save your trimmings. Mushroom stems, asparagus ends and broccoli trunks make excellent potage. Just wrap them in a produce bag or some damp paper towels, store in your fridge and cook them up within a day or two or throw them in your freezer and you’ll have a treasure on hand whenever you need a quick meal. The blending process (and depending on how fibrous your ingredients are, maybe a bit of sieving) ensures that you will always be met with a luscious, sip-able soup that carries all of the taste, but none of the fibrous material, of whatever flavor-packed foods you put in it.

Recipe

A Template for Potage

Serves 4

The first potage I made was the classic, Potage Parmentier, otherwise known as Potato Leek soup. This recipe is a variation on that original, but I have substituted the leeks with the cast-offs from your prep. The only consistent ingredients in the template recipe I offer below are the onion and potatoes. The potatoes should be starchy, like Russets, so that they fall apart into creamy bliss at the end of cooking. Other than that, feel free to riff on this theme as much as you like, changing out the cooking fat, the stock, the flavoring vegetable, herbs and garnishes as you like.

Bon, appétit, indeed, Mrs. Child.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons butter, oil or lard
1 onion, peeled and diced
Salt
1 pound starchy potatoes, such as Russet, scrubbed but not peeled and cut into 2” pieces (about 2)
2 cups vegetable ends of your choosing (asparagus ends, mushroom stems, pea pods, broccoli stalks, spinach stems)
1 quart stock (such as vegetable, mushroom or chicken) or water
Freshly ground pepper
Fresh herbs such as tarragon, thyme, or parsley, minced (optional)
1/4 cup cream (optional)
Garnishes, see below (optional)

Method:

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat butter, oil or lard over medium heat. Add the onion, season with salt and sauté until translucent, about 3-5 minutes. Add the potatoes, vegetable ends and stock or water. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt, season with pepper and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer until potatoes fall apart, about 20-25 minutes.
  2. Purée using a regular bender or stick blender, working in batches if necessary. (Keep in mind that hot things are hot — don’t burn yourself!)
  3. Press through a fine mesh sieve into a heatproof bowl.
  4. Return the puréed soup to the pot and return it to a simmer. Add herbs, if using, and cream, if using, and simmer for 5-7 minutes to allow flavors to blend and soup to thicken. Adjust seasoning.
  5. Divide between bowls and garnish, if you like.

Garnishes:

A big bowl of creamy potage is comforting and filling, but about half way through I find myself longing for some textural difference. For something crunchy or crispy that provides a little contrast, I turn to these garnishes:

  • Homemade croutons: turn stale bread into snackable croutons by drizzling one-inch bread cubes with oil and/or melted butter, sprinkling with salt, pepper and dried oregano or thyme and toasting in a 325 F oven.
  • Frizzled shallots: fry thinly sliced shallots in oil over high heat until brown.
  • Toasted pepitas: toast raw, shelled pumpkin seeds in a dry pan over medium heat until lightly browned, puffed and fragrant.
  • Frico: drop tablespoon pinches of grated parmesan cheese onto a pan preheated over medium until the cheese melts and begins to brown slightly. Use a spatula to transfer them to a cookie sheet (or drape over a rolling pin for curved frico) until they cool and harden.
  • Roasted chickpeas: toss rinsed, drained and dried chickpeas with oil, sprinkle with salt and perhaps some pepper, chili powder or curry powder and roast in a 400 F degree oven for 25-35 minutes, or until crunchy.

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