I love soup. Fall and winter is the perfect time of year to enjoy healthy soups that can be made for one meal and then eaten again for lunch or frozen for later use. One of my favorites is Jackie Soup, a French country vegetable soup named after my French cousin Jackie who always makes it when the American cousins come to visit.
In the fall of 2009, we took the kids to visit Jackie, who is in her 80s and has cancer. She is the last surviving first cousin of my grandfather and we wanted to see her while she could still enjoy the visit. She lives in Pau in southwestern France, at the base of the Pyrenees Mountains that straddle France and Spain. She inherited the family’s ancestral home in a tiny village southeast of Pau in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, where the cows are still brought through the streets to the communal water trough.
“She’s a very sweet lady who slaps your face when she is happy with you, lives in the tiny village of Buziet in an 1840s farmhouse built by her great-grandfather, and speaks only French at a rate of about 200 kilometers per hour,” Chris Mittelstaedt wrote in The FruitLife last year after our return. “The kids loved the fall farm rituals: the green pastures and stone walls, the roosters crowing in the morning, the contented clucking of hens pecking the grass, the bereted Béarn shepherds with their flocks of dusty sheep rolling down from the Pyrenees mountains like giant balls of frayed yarn heading for safer winter pasture, the bats darting out of the dusty, bow-timbered grange, and the clang-clong sound of hollow brass cow bells bumping through the narrow village streets announcing the evening bovine beauty pageant.”
There, in the chill evenings, by a toasty fire in the walk-in stone hearth, she would make us Jackie Soup and frites, washed down with local red wine, a fresh baguette and butter, and salad. The ingredients are simple: fresh potatoes, a bit of carrot, onion, leek, “Quel que tu veux,” as Jackie would say, whatever you want, or have in the kitchen. Basically every ingredient can be substituted according to your tastes, you can add more greens, less potatoes, lose the leeks. Let your fridge be your guide.
3-4 lbs organic white potatoes (about 8 medium-sized), washed, peeled & cubed
2 carrots, scrubbed and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 celery stalks, washed and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 leeks, washed, trimmed (to white part only) and sliced into rounds
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, peeled and diced
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
4-6 cups boiling water (or vegetable stock)
Fresh parsley (optional)
Crí¨me fraiche (optional)
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Wash, trim, and chop the onion, garlic, celery, leeks, and carrots. In a large stockpot, add the olive oil and butter on low heat. Add the chopped onion, garlic, leeks, and carrots. Stir occasionally while you wash and peel the potatoes. You can add them to the pot as they are cut. Put on 6 cups of water (or broth) to boil in a separate pot. Stir all the veggies to coat with oil. Add just enough boiling water to cover the potatoes. Add the 2 sprigs of thyme. Bring to a boil, then lower flame to a gentle simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally (this soup will thicken from the bottom). Once the potatoes are soft, remove the thyme stems and use a hand blender (I have a trusty Braun model that I love) to puree all the vegetables until smooth. Taste. At this point you will add salt and pepper to taste, more water if you desire a thinner consistency, and a heaping tablespoon or two of crí¨me fraiche, if desired. If the soup is too thin, let it continue to simmer on low (stir regularly) until it has thickened. Serve hot with parsley garnish, if desired. Serves 4-6.
I usually serve this with toasted sourdough bread drizzled with olive oil and a green salad. It also pairs very well with sausages of any kind. Jackie would accompany it with a batch of frites, or homemade French Fries. I often make a double batch of Jackie Soup and then freeze the leftovers for use another week.
- Pia Hinckle