• 84°

Joni Woolf: Time for soup to heal winter’s woes

Many of us have experienced the recent holidays with sumptuous meals — good food and drink, rich desserts, calories uncounted. Now it is January, and we are not only counting calories: we are counting the days until it’s warm again, till winter says goodbye and we can welcome spring. In the meantime, some of us are at home with vague aches and pains, fighting off flu-like symptoms, and longing for foods our mothers might have prepared for us when we were still in her care. In my mother’s home, this meant mild, wonderful potato soup. Hers was rather bland, as most potato soups are, unless embellished with cheese, butter and bacon. But then it ceases to be potato soup and becomes something else — soup, still, but less about potatoes than the rich trimmings.
Today I made a pot of leek and potato soup to take to a church event, and though its taste is mild, I find it satisfying and filling — and comforting in the way it embraces memory and reminds me of simpler times. I made this using five pounds of russet potatoes, but the recipe can be halved for a smaller amount. However, it freezes well, and is a great soup to have in the freezer if you find yourself without supper plans and want something easy. It does not get much easier than potato soup.
Another good soup — richer, but with reasonable calorie count — is a Chunky Minestrone I’ve made several times in recent years, and find it always satisfying. Its calorie count, per serving, is only 200 — 20 percent from fat — so it’s probably a leaner meal than the potato soup, which features butter, half-and-half and potatoes — not a low-calorie soup in spite of its mild appearance. So, as winter takes its toll on us in a variety of ways, stay inside, make a big pot of soup, and humor yourself a bit. The Christmas and New Years’ seasons can be demanding and hectic. It’s time to let the body and soul rest a bit. And there are few ways better to slow down, change gears and re-group, than with a comforting bowl of soup. Try one of these, and also share your soup recipes with us.

Potato Leek Soup
5 pounds russet or other white potatoes
1 to 1-½ sticks butter (I used only 1; more would make it richer)
4 or 5 leeks
4 or 5 stalks celery
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 pint half and half
Salt and pepper to taste
Water or broth as needed
Peel potatoes and cut into narrow slices, placing in bowl of cold water as you proceed, to prevent discoloration of potatoes. Put aside. Trim leeks, removing green ends, and washing thoroughly (Sand hides in leeks.) Slice into ¼-inch slices, separating the ringlets. Slice celery in ¼-inch pieces. Melt butter in soup pot. Add leeks and celery, and saute over low heat, about 10 minutes, until tender. Drain potatoes from water, add them to pot and stir a couple of minutes to coat them with the butter and vegetables. Add the broth; if it is not enough to barely cover the potatoes, add enough water to cover. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook about 20 minutes over low heat, until potatoes are tender. I use an immersion blender to break down the mixture, but others like the soup to be chunky, so you might use a potato masher to partially break down, while leaving chunks of potatoes and vegetables. I hesitate to admit that I have never made any soup the same way twice. But it’s true. I experiment, with taste, with substance, with appearance. Sometimes when I make potato soup, I omit the broth and use 1 percent milk instead. But I prefer the extra rich taste that chicken broth provides, so usually stick to this recipe with some consistency.

Chunky Minestrone Soup
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 ½ cups chopped onions
1 medium carrot, halved lengthwise and sliced (about ¾ cup)
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup long-grain rice, uncooked
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
2 ½ cups water
1 14 ½ ounce can diced tomatoes, no added
1 14 ½ ounce can Rotel tomatoes, without peppers
1 10 ½ can low-sodium chicken broth
1 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced (about 2 cups)
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 15 ½ ounce can Great Northern or cannellini beans, drained
1 l0-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrot and garlic; saute 3 minutes. Add rice and next 4 ingredients; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes. Add zucchini and next 4 ingredients; cook an additional 5 minutes. Ladle into individual soup bowls and sprinkle with cheese.

Soups and chowders are good any time of year, but when the weather is disagreeable, and you may be too, a bowl of warm, healthy soup helps the body and soul restore itself. And remember: Spring is waiting, around the corner.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at indigojoni@windstream.net