Rib Sticking Good: Potato Soup

California's taken my weather stoicism and squashed it right into the ground with her flip flops. When I was a kid growing up in Denver, I could handle cold weather--although I didn't like it. We'd bundle up and play in the snow for hours--make angles, snowmen, and igloos. In fact, I was so hearty--and fearless--that my favorite childhood winter pastime was sliding down iced over hilly streets on a super thin, slick red toboggan that flew so fast over the terrain, you just had to hold on and pray you could keep yourself straight enough to miss the parked cars.

Even New Orleans had its share of cold weather. Most people find that hard to believe, but when you live somewhere humid, cold weather can be pretty intense. Throw in old houses that had to be built off the ground (an insurance against post-hurricane flooding) and you've got a the perfect scenario for freeze-your-butt-off temperatures. In fact, I had a friend who had a house that got so cold that the bottle of liquid vegetable oil in her cabinet turned solid.

But in California, I spent most of my years down south of here where it rarely dipped into the low 30s. I had huge outdoor ficus trees that I never had to worry about and a garden that rolled all year long--I even had roses that bloomed through the winter. It was beautiful, tolerable, and well, it made a complete weather pansy out of me; I can't take cold weather anymore--at all.

This week, we wound up with not one hard freeze, but a stretch of them with temperatures dropping down into the mid-teens. Aside from the mailbox, I couldn't find a compelling reason to leave the confines of my warm and cozy house, to extricate myself from my wool robe, or even turn off my stove.

It was definitely soup weather. The kind of weather where you put on a pot of soup and let it simmer all day long. A soup that makes up the day's lunch, dinner, and even a small bowl in between a nap and a good movie. So, while Mr. B loves chicken soup and I am a root vegetable soup girl, I decided to verge right into potato soup territory. Now, I'm no stranger to potato soup, but I usually only make it once, or maybe twice a year. However, this year, at our Thanksgiving feast, my friend M made the most divine mashed potatoes with lots and lots of olive oil and garlic. They were so flipping good that if I could have figured out a way to bathe in them without being impolite, I surely would have done so--right there at the dinner table! This potato soup is my homage to that dish; it's delicious and creamy and the starches from the potatoes embody the olive oil and enhance their earthy flavor.

So, crank up the furnace and get out your potato peeler--this potato soup is more than rib sticking--it's flat out ethereal.

Mel's Olive Oil Potato Soup
4-5 large Russet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1" pieces
1 large onion, chopped
8 toes of garlic, peeled and finely minced
olive oil
2% milk
heavy cream
chicken bullion (I used powdered)
salt and pepper

1. In a large, heavy wide stock pot, heat 1/2 cup of olive oil until warm.
2. Add the onions and cook until translucent and then add the garlic and cook for 5 minutes, being careful not to brown the garlic.
3. Add the diced potatoes and toss to coat in the olive oil and onions; add another 1/4 cup of olive oil.
4. Lower the temperature to medium and cover with a lid.
4. Allow the potatoes to cook until just beginning to softer--don't brown them; the goal is to keep them bathed in the olive oil and basically simmering--not frying.
5. Once the potatoes have softened a bit, but are still firm, pour in enough 2% milk to cover them; lower the heat and simmer until the potatoes are soft, but firm.
6. Add 1-2 tablespoons of the chicken bullion to taste and plenty of fresh ground pepper; continue to simmer until flavors merge.
7. Remove 3 cups of the soup into a vessel with high sides (a smaller saucepan, a pitcher, or a large glass measuring cup) and let cool for 10 minutes. Then, using an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth.
8. Return the smooth soup to the main pot and add enough heavy cream to get a thin, soup-like consistency; heat until hot and thick; adjust seasonings.
9. Serve in warm bowls. Top with cooked crumbled bacon, shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped green onion tops, chives and a good drizzle of olive oil.


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