potatoes and onions

If it seems cliché for me, a girl learning to cook, to want (and receive) a Julia Child book for Christmas, well, maybe it is. But, you know, not all clichés are bad. That one about how a penny saved is a penny earned? I kind of like that one. And you’re only young once? That’s true, too. Maybe you’re thinking up some new year’s resolutions: Get in shape? Save more money? I say, What the heck. Let’s all embrace clichés.

Julia Child is kind of The Great Famous Chef, the one who brought French cooking to American domestics, who seemed so excited, so full of gusto, she made you believe you could cook what she could, even from your little kitchen. (And that voice! Was there anything so endearing?) So I wanted Mastering the Art of French Cooking, like millions of home cooks have before and millions will after.

To begin, I opened to the first chapter and set my hopes on potage parmentier or, leek and onion soup. Julia—we’re on a first-name basis now—says yellow onions are fine, and that’s what I had, so that’s what I used. This is French food at its most economical. I would suspect you have all the ingredients already, and surely you could make some time to cook them. The result will be worth it: a creamy, comforting, hot-on-your-throat soup with small flecks of soft potatoes throughout. Julia says adding extra vegetables is fine, so I threw in half a bag of baby carrots, chopped into small bits. This gave my soup a pretty, orange color reminiscent of pumpkin soup, and, topped with a little parsley to serve, this stuff looks as nice as it tastes. I ate two bowls immediately, and the next day, my family finished the rest.

potage parmentier

In fact, though freshman year French class may be worlds away, Monsieur Shelbourne would be proud, bless his heart, that something’s finally clicked. With Julia, suddenly everything French is fascinating. Like this little girl with big brown eyes who tells a story about hippopotame and fantomes. Like the movie, Ratatouille. Like French macarons and French restaurants and the fact that my friend Becky is going to Paris in February.

Turns out, I didn’t need to make the life-size flag poster with black and white photos of Montmartre. If we’d only known then what I know now: just give this girl a cookbook.

cradle a cup

New Year’s Resolutions: I didn’t break any from last year, but that’s only because I didn’t make any. Better odds, that way, you know? This year, I’m resolved to work my way through Julia’s cookbook, as well as exercise regularly and, well, the two should go together.

Potage Parmentier or, Potato & Onion Soup
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child

3 to 4 cups or 1 pound potatoes, peeled and diced
3 cups or 1 pound yellow onions, thinly sliced (or, of course, leeks)
1/2 bag of baby carrots (or whatever amount you’d like)
2 quarts water
1 Tablespoon salt
4-6 Tablespoons whipping cream
1 Tablespoon softened butter
2-3 Tablespoons minced parsley or chives

1. Dump the potatoes, onions, carrots, water and salt into a three- or four-quarter saucepan or a dutch oven. Simmer the mixture, partially covered, 40-50 minutes until vegetables are tender.

2. After it’s all heated, mash/puree the vegetables in the pot with a fork or a potato masher. I chose to use a stick blender, which was fast and easy. The only thing I’d do differently next time is blend for a little less time; you want there to be small chunks throughout for more flavor. Correct seasoning by adding salt and pepper to taste.

3. Off heat and just before serving, stir in cream or butter by spoonfuls. Pour into a tureen or soup cups and decorate with the herbs.

The following may be simmered with the potatoes and leeks at the start: Sliced or diced turnips; peeled, seeded or chopped tomatoes or strained, canned tomatoes; half-cooked dried beans, peas, or lentils, including their cooking liquid.

The following may be simmered for 10 to 15 minutes with the soup after it has been pureed: Fresh or frozen diced cauliflower, cucumbers, broccoli, Lima beans, peas, string beans, okra or zucchini; shredded lettuce, spinach, sorrel, or cabbage; diced, cooked leftovers of any of the preceding vegetables; tomatoes, peeled, seeded, juiced and diced.

Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Lan

    how warm and hearty. i know you’re going to gasp out loud and may even break up with me but i have to admit, i can’t call myself a Julia Child fan. she doesn’t touch me the way she does with everyone else. growing up, it was the Frugal Gourmet, it was his show on PBS that i dug. i’m kinda ducking now.

    i am looking forward to what you create this year from her book, maybe you’ll convert me. :)

  2. Becky

    Hooray pour le francais!

  3. Jacqui

    yum! your soup looks so cozy and inviting. i just got a stick blender for christmas — can’t wait for more soups in the new year!

    happy 2009!

  4. Amy

    Sounds delicious!

    There aren’t any leeks in the recipe — I assume the yellow onions are being substituted for the leeks?

  5. My First Kitchen

    GREAT post, Shannalee. I love that you and Julia are on a first name basis (my new BFFs are Dorie and Bitty), and girl, my Christmas list was chock full of cookbooks. I’d love to say that my resolution is to make it through How to Cook Everything by Bitty, but there are over 1000 pages with several recipes per page. Maybe by my 40th birthday? Have a happy new year! I’m excited to get to know you more in the coming year!

  6. Shannalee

    Lan: Convert you I shall! HA! Truth is, I liked Frugal Gourmet, too, so it’s cool: we can still be friends. Julia is really something, though. When I heard she’d done some spy stuff, worked for intelligence or whatever, I was like: I always knew it.

    Becky: Oui!

    Jacqui: Did you try out the stick blender yet? It is SO much fun. First of all, it’s so much more powerful than I expected. And I swear, between it and my KitchenAid and the dishwasher, my kitchen practically cooks and cleans for me.

    Amy: I already e-mailed you, but in case anyone else wondered, too—I used yellow onions in place of leeks, which was what the recipe originally called for. I’d imagine they would make the soup delicious, too. (And thanks!)

    Kendra: OK, full confession, I also got like four other cookbooks (*blushes*). I’m glad you’re the kind of person who does that, too!! Bitty and Dorie are on my list still—especially How to Cook Everything because, oh my goodness, that’s exactly what I want to do!

  7. amy

    i simply adore that top photo shannalee!

  8. Shannalee

    Amy: Big compliment, coming from a photographer like you! Thanks!

  9. Pingback: All Warm Inside | Cream of Spinach Soup | food loves writing

  10. Don

    I couldn’t agree more Shannalee. Lan, I too loved the Frug. He was my my introduction to cooking. Unfortunately, his career was often clouded by controversy and there was a reason he went off the air. Just google him. Julia was a person of a higher order of magnitude on all levels. (and who can forget Dan Akroyd’s portrayal of her on SNL lol!)

  11. Shannalee

    Don: Like I e-mailed you, I had no idea about the Frugal Gourmet, but I know now. Wow. And I’m so glad to meet another Julia Child fan! Thanks for your comment.

  12. Don

    Forgot to mention I added a rind of Parmesan to the soup…had saved it (as Foghorn Leghorn would say) “for JUST such an occasion” lol

  13. Zahra

    I love it!:) I tried the recipe and have made it 4-5 times by now!:) Its now a family fav! Especially since its SO easy to make!:P

  14. Shannalee

    I’m so glad you like it, Zahra!

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