Last fall I led a group of good friends on a weeklong wine-and-food tour through Burgundy. During our short stay in this eastern area of France, we visited wineries during the day and dined in restaurants in the evening. It had been a long time since I had traveled in this region, and I had forgotten just how delicious Burgundian food is.
Night after night, the chefs amazed my companions and me with their incredible creations. Such dishes as a terrine of foie gras and smoked duck breast served in one restaurant and a savory gateau of guinea fowl and fresh artichokes offered in another were true works of art, but were too complex to reproduce in my home kitchen. Some of the simplest offerings, however, were my favorites and could easily be prepared by a home cook.
A Cream of Parsley Soup, pale green in color and silky smooth in texture, which I sampled at Hostellerie de Levernois just outside the town of Beaune, was such an example. At first, I couldn't discern what the flavoring was. Finally, a knowledgeable waiter revealed that parsley was the prime ingredient. The talented chef at the restaurant explained that the soup was made by simmering sauteed leeks with a large amount of parsley in cream and then pureeing the mixture. I would never have thought of using this common herb in such an inventive way.
On the other side of the Atlantic, I followed the chef's directions, but simmered my version in chicken stock along with some diced potatoes to help thicken the soup and give it body. Finally, I whisked some half and half into the mixture once it was pureed. My adaptation, a close facsimile of the French original, would make a fine first course for a spring menu.
Today's recipe serves four, but the dish can be doubled easily for a larger group. And, this first course actually improves in flavor if made a day in advance.
To follow the soup, roast lamb, baked salmon or grilled chicken are all good main-course possibilities. You could also offer the soup with a mixed greens salad and a warm baguette for a casual supper or lunch.
Cream of Parsley Soup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups chopped leeks (white parts only)
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 pound all-purpose potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch dice
3 cups chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley, packed tightly, plus 4 parsley sprigs for garnish
1 cup half and half
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Heat butter in medium heavy deep-sided pot over medium heat. When melted and hot, add leeks and cook, stirring, to soften, about 4 minutes. Add stock, diced potatoes and chopped parsley. Bring mixture to simmer, then cover and cook until potatoes are tender, 20 to 25 minutes.
Puree soup in food processor, blender or food mill. Return mixture to pot and whisk in half and half, then nutmeg. Taste and season generously with salt. (Soup can be prepared day ahead. Cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat, stirring, over medium heat.)
To serve, ladle into 4 shallow soup bowls and garnish each serving with 1 parsley sprig.
Note: This soup is also good chilled. When serving it cold, you may need to thin it slightly with extra stock or half and half. You will probably need to season it with extra salt as well.