French Country Soup

By • February 24, 2011 24 Comments

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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).

More Great Recipes: Pork Chops|Swiss Chard|Vegetables|Soups|Kale

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