Out of Thin Air

DSC07384Polar Vortex. Up until two weeks ago if someone said ‘polar vortex’ to you, you might have thought, hmm…new videogame? Marketing ploy by Patagonia to get you to pay a ridiculous amount of green backs for their new pullover? Defensive line of the Green Bay Packers?  But as of today, it’s likely everyone you run into will have anywhere from a vague to freakishly detailed knowledge that a ‘polar vortex’ is the reason it’s been colder than a witch’s….well, let’s just say it’s been unusually cold in most of these states united. Airports, highways, and in some places even cities shut down and huddled together until thermometers climbed north of negative. Temperatures below zero in multiples of ten and wind chills deducting ten more from that. Weather forecasts prefaced by ominous music and chilly graphics. Reporters (who most certainly drew the short straw) bundled up in everything short of bubble wrap as they explain how cold it is while peering out through the downy portholes of their parkas. Jon Stewart making fun of Fox for making fun of global warming. All of this caused by something that, technically, came out of thin air.

Air is funny stuff. Funny, and fierce. A gentle breeze on a warm day is lovely. We think nothing of moving air around to cool a hot bowl of soup or extinguish a birthday candle with a wish. But when air decides to gust at 60+ mph and inspire you to look up for incoming Kansas farmhouses and flying monkeys, things get a little dicey. And when that thin air decides to bring with it what feels like the next ice age, dicey gets icy. Who knew something as inconsequential as air could be so mean. Was it something we said? Did tossing off one too many ‘phews’ or ‘pffts’ piss air off? Or maybe it’s just tired being referred to as breezy, flighty, and depicted merely as a puff or a few squiggly lines. Ok air, we get it. You are strong and mighty, not to be messed with nor shrugged off as just ‘thin’. We apologize. Could you please stop blowing so hard, and maybe shift from warmer climes now?

While we here on the left side of the country got our polar influences last month rather than last week, the past few days have been decidedly damp and “breezy” (breezy meaning speeds to inspire flying monkey sightings.) So what better to do when staying out of the wind and watching football than make a big pot of soup. Kartoffel Suppe to be specific, or for the non-Teutonic,  Mom’s Potato Soup. The mom referred to on the recipe card is my grandmother, and this is the potato soup my mother grew up with (and hence, so did I).  Unlike its velvety elegant French cousin (which I also love and have posted a recipe for), this soup is heartier with more texture, and is a great way to use up the odds and ends in the vegetable bin and fridge. I suspect that’s how my grandmother came up with the recipe herself, and good thing she did. It’s been a favorite in our family soup bowls ever since.

Kartoffel Suppe (Mom’s Potato Soup)

Makes 10-11 cups

  • 5-6 cups peeled and cubed potatoes (russets are fine, I used those plus a few new potatoes I had on hand)
  • 1 ½ cups chopped onion (about 1 large)
  • ¾ cup chopped carrots (about 2 medium carrots)
  • ¾ cup chopped celery (2-3 ribs)
  • ½ cup chopped leeks (if you don’t have leeks, substitute scallions or additional onion)
  • 2 ounces diced pancetta or bacon
  • 1 parsnip, peeled and chopped (about ½ cup)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 TBSP chopped parsley
  • 2 bouillon cubes (chicken, beef or vegetable)
  • 1 ½ tsp olive oil
  • 1 TBSP unsalted butter
  • 1 ½ TBSP soy sauce
  • ¼ – ½ tsp white pepper (to taste)
  • Salt to taste

Optional additions: Sliced cooked sausages, kielbasa, hot dogs, or cubed ham

Heat olive oil in a large pot. Add pancetta or bacon, onions, leeks, carrots, celery and a good pinch of salt, and sauté over medium heat until the vegetables begin to soften (about 6-8 minutes). Add garlic and sauté another minute just until the garlic becomes fragrant. Add potatoes, parsnips, parsley and enough water to cover (about 5 cups). Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Cook, covered, until the potatoes and vegetables are very soft (about 20 minutes). Once the vegetables and potatoes are soft, mash them with a potato masher. I like this soup to have a bit of texture, but if you like a finer soup, feel free to use a stick or regular blender and puree.  Add the bouillon cubes to 1-½ cups of hot water and mash a little with a fork. Add to soup pot, along with soy sauce and white pepper. Partially cover and simmer 30 minutes.

To finish:

Once the soup has cooked for 30 minutes, add in a tablespoon of unsalted butter, taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Slice in 2-3 cooked sausages, some kielbasa, hot dogs, ham, etc. (optional).

Calories per cup: about 160 with meat, 115 without meat.

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