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Chilled Potato-Leek Soup with Fennel and Watercress (Vichyssoise)

Chilled Potato-Leek Soup with Fennel and Watercress (Vichyssoise)
Similar in appearance to celery, with a large bulb on the end, fennel has a faint licorice flavor. It is available year-round but is at its peak from October to March. Select creamy-colored bulbs with no browning, topped by crisp stems and feathery green leaves. Cut the stems off about 2 inches from the bulb and use only the bulb, trimming away the base of the core if it is thick and tough. The leaves make an excellent garnish and also can be used for flavoring soups and salads.

Ingredients:

  • 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 leeks, including tender green portion, rinsed
      well and coarsely chopped
  • 2 fennel bulbs, about 1 lb. total, thinly sliced,
      leaves reserved for garnish
  • 2 baking potatoes, about 1 lb. total, peeled and
      coarsely chopped
  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock or prepared
      broth
  • 1 bunch watercress, stems removed
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste

Directions:

In a soup pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the leeks and sauté, stirring occasionally, until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the fennel and potatoes and sauté, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, about 10 minutes.

Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Cover partially and cook until the vegetables are completely softened, about 20 minutes. Add the watercress and cook until it is wilted but is still bright green, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.

In a blender, food mill or food processor, puree the soup in batches until smooth and return the soup to the pot. Alternatively, process with a stick blender in the pot until smooth. Stir in the cream. Season with salt and white pepper, adding a bit of extra salt; flavors are less pronounced when a dish is served cold, so more salt is needed to bring out the taste of the food. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Ladle the soup into chilled bowls and garnish with fennel leaves.
Serves 6 to 8.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Soup, by Diane Rossen Worthington (Simon & Schuster, 2001).