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4 tablespoons grapeseed or other light vegetable oil 4 to 5 leek whites (10 oz.), split, washed, and diced 1 1/2 pounds red bliss or new fingerling potatoes, washed, peeled, and diced 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground white pepper 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seed 1 bay leaf 7 cups unsalted chicken stock or light broth 1 bunch (6 oz.) fresh watercress, stems removed, washed and chopped 6 tablespoons coarse-grated gruyere cheese (optional) Cracked black pepper

In a 3-to-4-quart soup pot, heat the oil and saute the washed and drained leeks until slightly soft.

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Add potatoes, and stir to coat well with oil.

Add the salt, white pepper, fennel seed, and bay leaf.

Saute all the ingredients for 4 to 5 minutes, then add the stock. Bring to a boil. Skim any foam and reduce to simmer for 25 to 35 minutes, until potatoes are tender, while stirring occasionally. Remove bay leaf and adjust seasoning.

Optional: For a more refined look, the soup may be pureed smooth at this point in a blender or food processor, but I prefer the slightly rustic effect, especially if served in an elegant terrine or pot.

Moments before serving, add the watercress, bring soup to a boil, and stir to incorporate flavors.

Serve very hot with cracked black pepper and a spoon of grated gruyere atop.

Serves 6 to 8.

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