French Country Soup

By • February 24, 2011 • 23 Comments



Author Notes: When I was a young woman bicycling alone through France, I usually stayed in small hotels in tiny towns, far from the Routes Nationales. Family run and operated, these hotels had small dining rooms where the proprietors served excellent, simple food, always with care and kindness. Over the course of my 1500 mile journey, which took me all over France, I enjoyed at least a dozen variations on this soup. Each bowl was different from the others, no doubt due to what went into the stock. Without exception, every bowl was delicious! My interpretation of it is one of our favorites. It's a cinch to make, even on a weeknight. Like Nigel Slater, I take advantage of the practicality of working through this in a linear fashion, i.e., chopping as I go along, and not following a strict mise-en-place process. (Doing it this way allows one comfortably to put this hearty one-bowl meal on the table in 45 minutes.) I must mention, too, that the bits of meat are my addition, to make it a "main dish" soup. It's a great way to use leftover bits of ham or smoked turkey. NB: this soup relies on a well-made, aromatic stock. Enjoy!! ;o)AntoniaJames

Serves 4, or 2 very generously as dinner, with leftovers

  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (See note below.)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium leek or enough shallots to make ½ cup, sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 3 large red or white (thin skinned, but not Yukon Gold) potatoes (1 ½ pounds)
  • 4 cups of aromatic homemade chicken or beef broth (See note below.)
  • 1 smoked pork chop, or 1 cup chopped Black Forest ham or smoked turkey (optional, but nice)
  • 1 stalk of celery and a handful of celery leaves (or whatever you have)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon fresh marjoram leaves
  • 1 good-sized bunch of green Swiss chard or kale
  • A generous handful of parsley leaves
  • Black pepper
  • * * * For the Optional Cheese Toasts or Tomato-Rubbed Rustic Bread * * *
  • Bread, sliced on the angle if it’s a baguette or batard
  • Stone ground mustard (optional)
  • Grated cheese (Parmigianno-Reggiano, Gruyere, Manchego, whatever you like) * OR *
  • 1 really juicy tomato + a touch of coarse sea salt
  1. Note: These instructions are for making this in a way that has you chopping and slicing while ingredients are cooking. The key is to turn the heat down every time you put the stirring spoon down. It seems like a lot of turning the heat up and turning the heat down, but it works. If you prefer to prep everything in advance, go ahead. The total cooking time should be about 40 minutes.
  2. Thinly slice the yellow onion. In a large pan that has a good lid – I actually use a huge skillet for making this --- heat the olive oil, then put the onion in with the bay leaves. With the heat on medium high, stir for about a minute. Add a good pinch of salt, stir a few more times, then turn the heat down to medium low.
  3. Thoroughly wash, cut in half lengthwise and then slice thinly the white and very pale green parts only of the leek. (Or thinly slice the shallots, if using.) Put in the pan with the onions and the butter, and give it all a good stir.
  4. Coarsely chop the garlic.
  5. Peel (or just scrub, if you prefer) and cut the potatoes into ¾ inch cubes. Put the potatoes and the garlic in the pan and turn the heat up to medium high. Cook, stirring constantly, for about two minutes. Turn the heat down and put a lid on the pan.
  6. Finely chop the celery and coarsely chop the celery leaves, the thyme and the marjoram.
  7. Turn the heat back up to medium high. Stir the potato and onion mixture well, then add the celery and chopped herbs. Stir again, then add three cups of the stock. If you are using a smoked pork chop, add it now, whole. Stir again, turn the heat down to medium low and put the lid back on.
  8. Remove the green leafy part of the chard or kale from the tougher central rib and stems. Chop the stems if using chard and add to the pan. Stir, turn the heat up to medium and put the lid back on.
  9. Chop the kale or chard leaves and put them in the pan. Stir well, then add the remaining cup of stock. Stir again, reduce the heat so the soup is just simmering, and put the lid back on. If you are using cooked ham or smoked turkey, add it with the kale or chard.
  10. Preheat broiler, if you're making cheese toasts.
  11. If using cheese and not tomato on your bread, slice the bread, and toast it very briefly under the broiler, if you want both sides crisp. Slather a bit of mustard on the side not toasted (or on either side, if you didn't toast the bread), then sprinkle the cheese on.
  12. Chop the parsley and add it to the soup. Stir well. Add a cup of water, or more, if there does not seem to be enough broth.
  13. Simmer the soup gently for a few more minutes. Using the back of a spoon, crush five or six soft potato pieces against the bottom of the pan and stir them into the broth to thicken it.
  14. Remove the bay leaves. If using a smoked pork chop, remove it and cut the meat into bite-sized pieces, then return them to the pan, with the heat still on medium low.
  15. Put the cheese-covered bread slices under the broiler for a minute or so. Watch them carefully, lest they burn.
  16. If not making cheese toasts, and going the tomato on bread route, slice the bread. Cut the tomato in half. Rub it on one side of each slice of bread, bearing down a bit to release the juices. Sprinkle on a touch of coarse sea salt.
  17. Check the soup for salt and correct if necessary. Add freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve in warm bowls with the cheese toasts or tomato-rubbed bread.
  18. Enjoy!! ;o)
  19. N.B. When they say that a good stock is essential for a good soup or sauce, they’re talking about this soup. If you don’t have an aromatic, flavorful stock, you're probably better off preparing something else for dinner instead. ;o)
  20. I often use bacon fat instead of oil when softening the aromatics, especially when i don't have on hand any rich chicken stock (i.e., stock simmered with a piece of ham or prosciutto).
Jump to Comments (23)

Tags: adaptable, comfort food, France, french, French country cooking, light, one-bowl dinner, Soups, Vegetarian, weeknight dinner

Comments (23) Questions (0)

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over 1 year ago shoestringmama

Oh YUM!! Can't wait to make this - thank you for sharing!

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almost 2 years ago tonimmartin

I made this soup today with turkey broth I made last week and leftover turkey to make it more hearty. Love it!

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over 2 years ago deidra

Well, first, thank you for the recipe. I've developed a plethora of food intolerances and there are many ingredients (including fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, and other additives) that I simply cant tolerate right now. Anyway, I've never used marjoram before so its mild and sweet flavor was a pleasant surprise. I used a smoked ham that I wasnt entirely happy with. I think I'll try harder to look for black forest or go with a smoked turkey leg the next time as I think the extra smokiness would really have helped my soup. All in all, I think the soup is very tasty. I added a bit of rice to my bowl and I think it went nicely with the soup. As you said, to anyone trying this dish, its really important that you season your broth well and with a variety of vegetables. To make my broth, I used 2 chicken thighs (should have used 3 or added a breast), 3 stalks of celery, 2 carrots, 1 medium onion(quartered; larger onion would have been better) 2 cloves of garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper. I can definitely agree with you about turning the heat up and down while cooking. Its really useful if you haven't chopped ahead. Thanks again! :-)

Pamelalee

almost 3 years ago pamelalee

I love recipes that give me various options. For this recipe I chose leek, chicken stock, Black Forest ham, and kale. I must confess: I used store-bought chicken stock, and it was still delicious! I can't wait to try it with homemade stock the next time around. As far as order of prep, I find it much easier to have my ingredients chopped and and ready to go before I begin, so I went that route.

Me

about 3 years ago wssmom

If I prepare this soup (and I surely will) I am betting it will virtually take me to the French countryside avec bicycle ....

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about 3 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

I hope you do try it, wssmom, and that when you do, you ARE transported to the French countryside. I still ride the bike that I rode on that trip. It keeps those memories happily alive. ;o)

3-bizcard

about 3 years ago sdebrango

Suzanne is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Wonderful recipe, I am so glad to see this, I love soup and this sounds amazing!

New_years_kitchen_hlc_only

about 3 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Thank you, sdebrango. I'm glad you think so. It's basic peasant fare, but there's a reason that people have loved food like this so universally, for so long. It actually makes me look forward to the cooler weather ahead. ;o)

Dscn3274

about 3 years ago inpatskitchen

Oh what a beautiful soup!

New_years_kitchen_hlc_only

about 3 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Thanks so much, IPK. You are so kind. It looks humble. But it tastes good. This one is an old friend. ;o)

Dscn2212

about 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

How beautiful! I love the flavors layered in like layers of your lovely experiences. The variety of meat options you include are wonderful, and each would be distinctive. Those primitive memories have deep roots. Thank you so much.

Dscn2212

about 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

P.S. Stone ground mustard is never simply an option.

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about 3 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

boulangere, you make me laugh! "Never simply an option." So true. Especially when there is horseradish in the brown mustard. Thank you! ;o)

Dscn2212

about 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

OH YEAH!

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over 3 years ago Stockout

I put beans into just about every soup I make, and I am a soup fanatic. I will have to check out that article in the NYT, I was actually in there today but not in the food section.
When I was traveling along the southern coast of France I got to meet a "nice" Frenchmen in Cassis who treated me to an octopus dish his brother caught just that morning. The only way to travel and eat, local. One day I will try to cook one myself.

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over 3 years ago Stockout

I love everything about this dish. A little pistou, maybe? and a handful of creamy white beans? I can't leave anything alone, always tweeking...sound like anyone you know? :o)

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over 3 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Thank you! And yes, I've been known to swirl a bit of rouille in this, and can easily imagine a pistou being a nice addition, and as for the beans, I was just thinking about how good this would be with some fragrant white beans added . . .Did you see the NYT "Temporary Vegetarian" column recipe for "Bean Confit" on the dining blog today? That would be divine. Ah, there are so many possibilities here. Like all of the other workhorses in my recipe box, this is as much a framework as an actual recipe. Tweaking is what makes it so much fun!! ;o)

Summer_2010_1048

over 3 years ago Midge

Just bought all the ingredients to make this and a lovely loaf of rye. Can't wait for dinner.

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over 3 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Splendid! You know, when I made this last week, the cheese toasts were on the end pieces of one of the best light rye loaves I've ever made (recipe to follow, over the weekend, if I can remember to weigh/measure/write down the details). I frequently cut the end pieces from my loaves and freeze them immediately, to use with this and similar soup and stew dinners. All that crust + a bit of cheese = the best peasant food. I hope you enjoy the soup!! ;o)

Summer_2010_1048

over 3 years ago Midge

I can't tell you how much my husband and I loved this soup! It was so comforting and delicious on rainy, cold night. Your directions were perfect; I normally chop as I go, so I appreciated how you set up the recipe. And the cheese toasts were key! Looking forward to seeing your rye recipe. Thanks AJ!

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over 3 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

That's great, Midge. Thanks so much for letting me know! I wonder sometimes if the foods that I eat a lot and enjoy so much will also be appreciated by others -- this one especially, because the memory of having enjoyed so much that soup in France during that amazing chapter in my life makes it particularly delightful for me. ;o)

Phoenix

over 3 years ago Phoenix Helix

Bicycling alone through France - what a wonderful experience! The soup looks delicious, too.

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over 3 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Thank you, BB. Yes, it was life-changing, in many ways. I went back two years later and cycled from London to Harwich, took a ferry to Holland, and bicycled through the low countries, into Germany and through the Black Forest, then to and through Alsace. Again, I was alone; that was an amazing trip, too. You learn a lot about food on a trip like that. ;o)