Lovely Christmas

Frosty outside, warm and bright inside, with all of the French Toast, presents, and chocolate one could possibly wish for.  Plenty of time to relax in the wrapping-paper strewn living room.   A stream of “Merry Christmas” texts from distant friends and family.  It was a lovely Christmas.

Mid-afternoon, Michael put on some cooking music and got to work on his paella while I curled up on the couch, cracked open a new book, and nibbled on Lindt chocolates and gummi centipedes from my stocking.  Eventually, as the kitchen grew steamy and fragrant with pimenton and saffron, I joined him and started peeling apples for a Tarte Tatin.  There was no hurry, no bustle at all.  Just the slow dance of two cooks in one kitchen, chopping and stirring side by side. 

As Michael snapped the tips from a bunch of asparagus, he said, “It’s a shame to waste the rest of these, and I’ve got the stems from the broccolini, too.  Do you want me to save them?”

I’m sure he expected me to say no, but I had a flash of inspiration.  “Yes,” I said, “I can use them.” 

Once the paella was safely in the oven and the sugar and apples bubbling madly in the cast iron skillet, I reheated some leftover Potato Leek Soup from Christmas Eve.  When our friends arrived for dinner, I poured it into mugs, topped with swirls of crème fraiche, and sprinkled with chives for a portable first course that we drank standing around the kitchen. 

We had Christmas dinner picnic style, sitting on cushions around the coffee table, slowly savoring the paella, full of roasted chicken legs, plump shrimp the size of baby arms, and chorizo.  We made our way through a bottle of Portuguese wine and a bottle of Spanish red, then the Tarte Tatin, its apples caramelized until they looked like apricots.  Topped with more crème fraiche, the dessert was a blend of tart and sweet, chewy crust and soft apples– silky and simple and just right. 

For once, it did not even occur to me to grab my camera and start shooting pictures of dinner from every angle.  I was totally immersed in the moment.  I’m sure I will write more about Michael’s paella one day, and will share my Tarte Tatin recipe too, but not today.

And then!  And this is what I really want to tell you about: the next day, I pulled my bag of asparagus and broccolini ends out of the refrigerator, and contemplated them.  The Christmas Eve Potato Leek Soup had been simple to make, and a total success.  I still had a potato and some heavy cream left over.  Why, I reasoned, could I not make a similar soup with these leftover vegetables? 

I diced a quarter cup of onions and put them in the pot to sauté while I pulled a large russet potato from the drawer in the refrigerator, peeled and roughly chopped it.  I snapped the woody ends off the asparagus, then chopped them into discs like green coins from the land of Oz, and followed suit with the broccolini ends.  This produced a total of 4 cups of vegetables.  Simmered, pureed, and swirled with cream, the soup was a bright, delicate green, and tasted utterly pure, clean, and savory, like it should be sipped at a patio table covered in a gingham tablecloth that is being gently ruffled by a sea breeze.  And after the excesses of the holiday season, a simple soup is just what the palate craves to start the new year. 

I’m convinced now that I could substitute almost any vegetable for the leeks in the original recipe, and the resulting soup would be a success. 

Cream of Potato and Anything Soup

(Adapted from Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom)

  • ¼ cup diced onion
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large russet potato, peeled and chopped
  • 3 cups sliced asparagus and broccolini stems (or leeks, or other vegetables)
  • 2 cups water, 1 cup broth, and 1 cup white wine
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • Crème Fraiche and minced chives or parsley for garnish (optional)

In a large, heavy saucepan, bring the vegetables, liquid, and salt to a boil over high heat.  Cover partially, reduce heat, and simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.  Correct the seasoning to taste, and puree with a handheld immersion blender, or in batches in a food processor.

Whisk in the cream and reheat before serving.  Top each serving with a dollop of crème fraiche and sprinkling of fresh chives, if desired.  Makes 3-4 servings.

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