July 15, 2009

Dinner for an invalid (Cream of leek & pancetta soup; mashed potatoes)

Jon was not feeling well today, so after work, I went over to make a comfort food/easy-to-digest dinner. I had some vague idea of making a vegetable consommé, but after a quick check of the supermarket shelves to see what was on sale, I decided to make something else (also, it was a long day at work, I didn't feel up to waiting for the chicken/pork bones to turn into stock).

Unfortunately, I was already out when the brilliant idea of cooking dinner occurred to me, so I didn't have any recipes to refer to, but both dishes are pretty basic and don't really need a recipe, just guidelines so you are on the right track. I remembered vaguely how to make mashed potatoes and also how to make a cream soup from watching others or Internet, so decided to have a whack at making my own.

The beauty of the two dishes is that they can cook side by side, and also use many of the same ingredients. The disadvantage is that there may be a bit of taste "overlap" between the two dishes, but since it is comfort food, I guess it is OK if it's not a proper 3-course meal!

What I bought:
  • 3 Japanese-style long leeks, sliced thinly at a slanted angle
  • 2 organic tomatoes (unused in the end)
  • 2 zucchini (unused in the end, will probably go into a pasta dish with the tomatoes in the near future)
  • 1 packet of diced raw pancetta (Italian dry cured pork belly - on sale, it was cheaper than the bacon I had originally planned to get)
  • 1 small carton of UHT cream
  • 1 nylon string bag of new potatoes

What I made:
  • Cream of leek, pancetta and potato soup
    • Heat the pancetta bits in a pot. When a bit of pork fat comes out, add in the sliced leeks. Sweat them until leeks are translucent (maybe 10 minutes). Add a bit of water if the leeks stick to the bottom of the pot.
    • Add in water (eyeball it, if not sure, better to add in less and then add in more at the end to get the consistency and taste you want) and simmer until leeks are falling apart or as preferred (about 10 minutes?).
    • Sprinkle in some herbs as desired, such as bay leaf or basil (optional)
    • Add in most of the cream (set some aside for the mashed potatoes) and stir quickly; then turn off stove right away and let soup sit for a few minutes before serving.
    • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Creamy mashed potatoes
    • While leeks are sweating (above), put new potatoes in a pot of water, bring to a boil.
    • Turn off stove, you can let the potatoes sit in the hot water for a bit if you are busy with making the soup.
    • Drain most of the water from the pot, leave a bit to keep potatoes moist.
    • Smash/Mash potatoes with a masher, add a bit of water if necessary to "unstick" potato bits from the masher (but be sparing, as the cream will be added later). I prefer slightly lumpy potatoes so I would never use a ricer, but be my guest.
    • Throw in some chopped bits of the tops of the Japanese leek from the soup (finely, finely chopped) into the potato mash and stir.
    • Add in cream until the mashed potato is as creamy as you like.
    • Season with salt (and pepper if you want) to taste, and serve piping hot.

Note: The soup goes very well either by itself, with bread, or poured over the mashed potatoes. I mixed the leftover mashed potatoes into the soup so that the soup leftovers would be a thicker, more chowder-like soup rather than the original light cream soup (this was mainly because I was lazy and did not want to use additional Tupperware containers). You can refrigerate leftovers for several days, but I guess you could also stick it into the freezer for up to a month (if not more).

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