Soup stars in winter menus

Entertaining

Version using celery and leek even works for dinner parties

Entertaining

January 26, 2003|By Betty Rosbottom | By Betty Rosbottom,Special to the Sun

Homemade soups are mainstays of my winter meals. I use them routinely when entertaining during the cold-weather months. Robust creations like gumbos, chili or seafood chowders -- which are really meals in themselves -- become anchors for casual suppers, while lighter versions star in opening roles for the season's dinner parties.

The unremitting cold of a New England winter definitely makes a cup of steaming hot soup seem like an elixir, but there are other reasons I find a bowl of warm broth or a creamy vegetable potage irresistible. From a practical point of view, most soups can be made completely or partly in advance, and when I entertain, a dish that requires little or no last-minute attention is always a bonus.

I also love the infinite variety of the soup repertoire. Every country seems to have a specialty -- the French are celebrated for their onion soup; ribolitta, an incredible vegetable soup, comes from Italy; and Cuba has given us black bean soup.

For a recent dinner for six at our house, there was no doubt in my mind that the evening would begin with a soup. The question was: which one? Although I have a substantial file of tempting recipes, I decided to try a variation on a French classic and made a new version of celery and leek soup. I simmered these two vegetables along with diced potatoes in chicken stock, then pureed the mixture and enriched it with a small amount of creme fraiche. The pale celadon-green melange looked attractive garnished with a dollop of creme fraiche and a sprinkling of chopped parsley and crumbled bacon. Our guests must have felt the same way I do about soups, because there wasn't a spoonful left in any bowl when the first-course plates were taken away.

Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.

Celery Soup With Creme Fraiche and Bacon

Makes 6 (1-cup) servings or 4 with larger servings

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups chopped leeks (white parts only)

4 cups sliced celery

3/4 pound Yukon gold or baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 -inch dice

4 cups reduced-sodium chicken stock

3/4 to 1 cup creme fraiche (see Note)

kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper

6 bacon slices, fried until crisp and then crumbled

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Heat butter in large, deep-sided pot with a lid over medium-high heat until melted and hot. Add leeks and celery and saute, stirring, 4 minutes. Add potatoes and stock. Bring mixture to a simmer, then lower heat. Cover and simmer until all vegetables are tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

Puree soup in food processor, blender or food mill. Return pureed mixture to pot in which it was cooked. Stir in 1/2 cup of the creme fraiche.

Taste and season with salt and pepper. You may not need much salt, since celery is high in sodium.

(Soup can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat over low heat when ready to serve.)

To serve, ladle soup into soup bowls. Garnish each serving with dollop of remaining creme fraiche and sprinkle with some bacon and parsley.

Note: Creme fraiche, a thickened cream with a slightly tangy flavor, is available in some supermarkets. If you can't find it, the following recipe works well. Whisk together 1 cup whipping cream and 1/3 cup sour cream in medium nonreactive bowl. Let stand at warm room temperature 8 hours or longer until thickened. Cover and refrigerate up to 1 week.

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