Today: Potato soup just got a lot more interesting.
Ruggedly handsome and mysterious, this is a potato soup that leaves the cock-a-leekies and chowders of the world to quietly play cards, while it goes traveling solo through Andalucia on a moped.
It comes from The New Spanish Table by Anya von Bremzen, who seems to publish an eye-opening book on another corner of the world every few years, win a James Beard award, and, in her down time, write for Travel & Leisure and Food & Wine.
As EmilyC pointed out to me, the most intriguing feature of the soup is this: "It's thickened not by roux or cream but by fried and finely ground almonds." Toasting almonds with garlic and blitzing it all in a food processor is a thrilling, genius way to enhance potato soup, but the fun doesn't stop there.
A modest amount of diced Serrano ham (or prosciutto) and a pinch of saffron go a long way, adding a luxurious gloss to what is otherwise a peasant stew. (Ask the person working the deli counter to give you a slice of either ham 1/4-inch thick. Or a nub from the end, if they have it.)
The ham, saffron, potatoes, stock, and most (but not all!) of the almonds and garlic bubble together for half an hour, until about half the potatoes have melted into the broth. The rest of the ragged chunks will have drunk up the saffron and garlic by now. You can smash some up with the back of your spoon to make it creamier, or leave it as chunky as you like.
Now, just when you think it's almost too savory, too rich with almond-y oil and ham runoff, you take that reserved handful of ground almonds and quickly pickle it with some sherry vinegar. Stir that in, add some parsley, and you've got a soup you'll keep eating till it's gone, cozy but bright in every spoonful.
The texture is equally complex. Those almond bits that have been simmering with the soup for the duration are softened and plumped; the last-minute ones a still-crunchy carrier for the vinegar. The potatoes, like butter. If you wanted an unobstructed, smooth soup, you made the wrong choice. If you wanted a soup that's more Michael K. Williams than Michael Bublé, you're in for a treat. (For soup à la Bublé, try this. Or this.)
Yes, there are a few puddles of olive oil on the top of the soup, which you may not be accustomed to -- skim them off if you want. Or don't.
Ladle it up, pass it around, and let winter's shackles fall away.
Adapted slightly from The New Spanish Table by Anya von Bremzen (Workman Publishing Company, 2005)
Serves 4 as an appetizer
1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup whole blanched almonds
6 large garlic cloves, peeled
1/3 cup (about 2 ounces) finely diced serrano ham or prosciutto
4 cups chicken broth, or more if needed
1 pinch saffron, crushed
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar, preferably aged, or more to taste
2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
Dense country bread, for serving
Photos by James Ransom