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There are certain dishes we should all be able to cook by heart and adapt to take advantage of the seasonal harvest, our preferences, and what is at hand in our pantries. Among those things are roast chicken, bread soup, bread salad, congee (rice porridge), omelets, and, today’s focus, potato soup.

There are others, of course, but you have to start somewhere. And as we approach the darkest and, possibly, coldest time of year, having a good command of bone-warming soups is a good idea.

A good soup can be more than what is typically served in a restaurant, a starter course or light lunch. Soups make a great breakfast, hearty lunch and easy dinner, especially on a cold dark weeknight, with some crusty bread.

You can use any potato to make soup, but when making potato soup instead of a soup that simply includes cubed potatoes among many other ingredients, it is best to use a waxy variety instead of a mealy variety (which make the best mashed potatoes).

Don’t overthink this aspect, though; if you use mealy potatoes — Burbank Russet is the best known — you’ll still have a good soup, though you may need to add more liquid to get the right consistency. If you’re not familiar with waxy varieties, just look for red potatoes.

You need no cream in potato soup and, indeed, cream diminishes the flavor of other ingredients. Liquid can be water or your choice of vegetable, chicken or duck stock, preferably homemade. And depending on what other ingredients you may or may not add, a bit of white wine can enhance your soup.

The recipe is flexible but the variations have been chosen carefully, for their compatibility with potatoes. You may notice that there are no variations with winter squash, eggplant, carrots, parsnips, or mushrooms. This is because I do not recommend them in this context.

Winter squash, eggplant, carrots, and parsnips provide a voluptuous texture all their own and don’t need a foundation of potatoes to make a great soup. And I have found that the best mushroom soups are just mushrooms, stock, aromatics and seasonings, and, sometimes, cheese.

Basic Potato Soup, with Variations

Makes 4 to 6 servings

2-3 tablespoons olive oil or coconut oil

1 yellow onion, cut into small dice

3-4 garlic cloves, crushed and minced

— Kosher salt

2 pounds red (or other waxy variety) potatoes, scrubbed and sliced

2 cups stock (vegetable, chicken or duck)

— Black pepper in a mill

Pour the olive oil into a large soup pot set over medium-low heat. Add the onion and sauté gently until it is soft and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, sauté 1 minute more, and season with salt.

Add the potatoes, stir, and sauté for 5 minutes. Season lightly with salt and add the stock plus enough water to cover the potatoes by about 2 inches. Increase the heat to high, bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer gently until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

The soup can be enjoyed as it is, with nothing more than a few turns of black pepper, or it can serve as a foundation for any of the variations below. You can leave it chunky if you prefer or you can purée it with an immersion blender.

When: Friday, Aug. 21, 2-4 p.m.
Where: 2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen. Meet in the main picnic area above the ranch parking lot.
Admission: $10 for each meeting, refreshments will be served. There is a $10 parking fee for cars without an annual parks pass.
Info: jacklondonpark.com/jl-bookclub-2015.html

Enjoy right away. The soup will keep, covered and refrigerated for 3 to 4 days.


With spinach: Wash 1 bunch of spinach, remove large stems, and chop finely. Sauté in a bit of olive oil until the spinach just wilts. Add 2 or 3 garlic cloves, minced or put through a press, and season with salt and a few gratings of nutmeg. Stir into the soup. Purée if you prefer your soup smooth, taste and correct for salt, season with several turns of black pepper. Add a dollop of creme fraiche to each serving.

With broccoli: Cut or break a medium head of broccoli into small pieces and steam it until it is just tender. Add to the soup when the potatoes are tender, along with the grated zest of 1 lemon. Purée the soup with an immersion blender, taste, and correct for salt. Season with black pepper and enjoy right away.

With tomatoes: Add one or two 14.5 ounce cans of diced tomatoes (choose two cans for a more tomatoey soup), preferably Muir Glen brand, to the soup after the potatoes are almost tender. Cook 10 minutes more, cool slightly, and purée with an immersion blender. Top each serving with chopped fresh Italian parsley or fresh cilantro leaves and a dollop of creme fraiche. In the summer and fall, use fresh tomatoes and fresh basil.

With poblanos & serranos: Sear 7 or 8 large poblanos and 1 or 2 serranos directly over high heat until the skins are blackened. When cool enough to handle, remove the skins, cut out the stem and seed core and mince the chiles. When the potatoes are tender, stir in the chopped chiles and the grated zest of one lime. Sprinkle each serving with chopped fresh cilantro.

With cheddar cheese: Add 2 cups (8 ounces) grated cheddar to the soup, along with 1/2 a teaspoon of ground cayenne and several turns of black pepper. Purée with an immersion blender, taste, correct for salt, and enjoy right away.

With cheddar cheese, chipotle powder, and sausage: Fry a pound of spicy sausage until done, cool, and cut into a very small dice. Sauté 8 to 10 cloves of garlic in the fat the sausage released or in a bit of olive oil for 2 minutes; do not let it burn. Stir in 2 teaspoons of chipotle powder. When the potatoes are tender, purée the soup using an immersion blender. Add the sausage, garlic, and 2 cups of grated Cheddar cheese. Season with black pepper, taste and correct for salt, and enjoy right away.

This soup is nearly identical to the others but with a few steps that warrant a separate recipe.

Potato, Bacon & Cabbage Soup

Makes 6 to 8 servings

— Olive oil

1 yellow onion, cut into small dice

1 small carrot, peeled and minced

— Kosher salt

½ teaspoon caraway seeds

6 ounces, approximately, bacon or pancetta in one piece, cut into small cubes

2 -2½ pounds potatoes, washed and sliced

2-4 cups homemade chicken stock

½ small green cabbage, cored, shredded, and sautéed in a little olive oil until just limp

1/4 cup, approximately, chopped fresh Italian parsley

— Black pepper in a mill

— Hawaiian Chile Water, Tapatio, Tabasco or other hot sauce

Pour enough olive oil into a large soup pot to cover the bottom of the pan with a thin layer. Set over medium heat, add the onion and carrot and sauté until soft and fragrant, about 12 minutes; do not let the vegetables brown. Season lightly with salt and add the caraway seeds.

Add the bacon and potatoes, sauté, stirring gently, for about 5 minutes. Add the stock and enough water to cover the potatoes by 1 to 2 inches. Simmer gently until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes or a bit longer depending on the size of the slices. Add the sautéed cabbage and the parsley, stir and cook for about 10 minutes, until the cabbage is completely tender and the flavors have come together. Taste, correct for salt and season with several turns of black pepper.

At this point, either leave the soup chunky or purée a portion of it using an immersion blender. Ladle into soup bowls and serve with one of the condiments alongside.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including her first, “A Cook’s Tour of Sonoma” (1990). Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com

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