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Few things partner good fresh bread better than a hearty bowl of home-made soup.

I need an early and light lunch today as I plan to walk out immediately after and head to my Knit & Natter group meeting. Soup and a roll usually fits that bill. A quick root in the refrigerator revealed some dangerously long in the tooth leeks.

Leek and Potato it is.

Now, if you have come here seeking a recipe, this is not the place to find it. I am not that kind of cook. I love to read cookery books for inspiration but rarely follow a recipe, even the first time around. I like to cook by gut instinct and to ring the changes thoroughly. The “recipe” here is, like the Pirate’s Code,  more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules.

To go with the soup today, we have Shepherd’s Bread. This is a recipe that I stumbled across only yesterday, on Ravelry. Reproduced here for those who are not members of that fabulous site. An odd method is involved, but I’ll try anything once.

Actually, I do have one hard and fast rule for soup: No water. A good soup has body and body comes from stock. Use a good stock cube, you don’t need to half kill yourself roasting and boiling the bones of a cow or anything like that. It’s not like you are trying to impress a future mother-in-law or anything like that.  I favour Knorr cubes for every day cooking, when I am not using Marigold powder (vegetarian.)

Leek and Potato Soup (today’s version)

  1. Peel and chop an onion and gently sauté in a heavy bottomed large pan in a large knob of butter, or a good splash of olive oil.
  2. Peel (if you wish, I often don’t) and chop a couple of potatoes and add to the pan as the onions become translucent. NB – if you leave the peel on the spuds make sure that you have given them a good scrub first. Leaving the skins on will lead to a muddier colour in the finished soup, but adds goodness and a lovely earthy note to the flavour.
  3. Gather together some leeks. 2 or 3 is usually sufficient, much depends on their size. Wash well and chop.The more green top that you include, the better the colour of the finished soup.
  4. Add leeks to the sauté mix when you feel that the time is right. If you have a couple of celery sticks to use up, you can chop and add those at this stage too. It makes for a pleasing variation.
  5. OPTION: if you are watching your fats/calories, leave the sautéing steps 1-4 out and just chuck all the prepared veg in the pan and proceed from here.
  6. Season well. Plenty of freshly ground black pepper helps.
  7. Cover with stock, and simmer until the vegetables are all tender. How much stock you add will depend on your desired richness in the final soup. I just use enough to cook the veg, as I intend to add milk later.
  8. Blend to the state that you desire: not at all (clear and chunky), fully thick and smooth, or somewhere in between. I like to leave a few lumps of soft potato evident in my finished soup.
  9. OPTION: Non-weightwatchers may add milk, or cream, or mascarpone, or crème frâiche, or whatever pleases you to mellow and enrich the soup. I have used all these, and others too at various times. My normal practice however is to add about a quarter to half a pint of milk at the blending stage. I use a stick blender straight in the pan – I hate washing the blender jug.
  10. Bring back to heat
  11. Taste and adjust seasoning
  12. OPTION: Add handfuls of fresh chopped herbs, if desired – I favour rosemary, dill or parsley. None of which are available today.
  13. OPTION: In the absence of herbs I often add a handful or two of frozen petits pois and just allow the soup to come back to temperature. They add a pleasing freshness of flavour.
  14. Serve in large bowls, don’t stint. This is main meal soup.
  15. Best served with freshly made bread rolls, warm from the oven.
  16. Toppings can be good on this soup: croûtons, grated Cheddar cheese, crispy bacon (real or soya) bits, sour cream – are all very good with leek and potato.

I made croûtons today, from some of the rustic bread that I baked earlier in the week. Just cut the crusts off some slices of stale (or at least 1 day old) bread. Toss them in a seasoned oil (not much, a tablespoon – 15ml –  is plenty.) I used good virgin olive oil, sea salt, black pepper, a little dried rosemary and some celery seeds today. Spread on a baking tray and cook in a moderate oven until golden and crispy. If you use the croûtons straight from the oven, beware – they can be volcano-hot.

And now, the Bread. Recipe originated by Ravelry user Meezercat. Meezercat has a Blog, A Taste of June.

Shepherd’s Bread

This is what Meezercat has to say about her bread:

This is an old family recipe. It’s one of my favorites, because it only needs to rise once, it goes into a cold oven, there are no specialty ingredients, and – oh yeah – it’s delicious. It’s also incredibly easy. I taught a bread-baking class at my MIL’s church a couple years ago, and this was one of the recipes. I even got two 12-year-old boys to successfully make this bread. So if you’re scared of bread, give this one a try. This recipe is very inexact and very very forgiving. You can over or under-flour it and it will still turn out great. But don’t forget the salt – I did that once…bad idea.

Yes. She said COLD oven. I too was sceptical, but I try to keep an open mind and try everything.

Shepherd’s Bread (makes 2 loaves)

  • 1 package yeast (or 1 Tbsp, if you have your yeast in bulk like I do)
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1 heaping Tbsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 6-7 cups flour
  • cornmeal (for sprinkling)

My Notes: I balked at the Tablespoon measures and used teaspoons, more or less (cupped hand guesstimates) and subbed 25g of fresh yeast  for the dried.

Pour the warm water into a bowl. Mix in the yeast and sugar; wait 5 or 10 minutes until it gets frothy. Then add the salt, and gradually add the flour, mixing until it starts to form a ball. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead for 3-5 minutes. If you’re bread-experienced, you’ll know when it’s ready; if not, just go by the time and you should be fine.

My Notes: My mix only held 4 cups of water – I was using stoneground strong bread flour. I stirred the flour in by hand, then let the Kenwood do its stuff with the dough hook attachment. I added the salt, not to the yeast liquid (scary!) but with the third cup of flour.

Once the kneading is done, grease a bowl or other deep container (you could use a cooking pot if you had to) and put the dough in. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel. (I actually use a dough rising bucket with a lid, but I realize most people don’t have that.) Let it rise until it doubles, which will probably take 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the temperature of your kitchen and the enthusiasm of your yeast.

My Notes: I let mine rise for about an hour. It tripled in size. The dough poured out of the bowl readily and was beautifully elastic.

Take a baking sheet and sprinkle it liberally with cornmeal. Cut the dough in half, shape into balls, and place on the baking sheet. (If you have a baking stone, you can put the dough on a pizza peel at this point instead of using a baking sheet.) Let the loaves sit for 5 minutes or so. While you are waiting, get some water boiling (a cup or so is fine).

My Notes: Yay – I got to use my Polenta, which was delivered yesterday!

When the loaves are ready, slash an “X” on the top of each and put them in the cold oven. Pour the boiling water into a pie pan or skillet and put on the bottom rack or floor of the oven. Shut the door and turn the oven to 400 degrees. Bake for 40-45 minutes.

My Notes: and Whoopee, I got to use my new Grignette!

I missed the money shot and there is no photograph of the loaves ready to go into the oven.

My oven temp was 190 deg C. The loaves appeared cooked after just 30 minutes in my fan oven, but I allowed the extra ten minutes to be certain of a good crust.

The loaves look amazing!

Two loaves, fresh from the oven

All photographs are mine – to see Meezercat’s, you will need to be a Ravelry member.

Update: We have just had lunch. The soup was delicious. As for the bread, well I just find it astonishing that it rose so well in a cold oven. The crust is fabulous – a great colour and a kind of crisp chewiness to it. The crumb is moist and even, quite dense – this is a sturdy loaf. Very acceptable and I shall use the recipe again when time is short. Deep slashing with the grignette and a scattering of corn meal over the top gave this bread a wonderfully appetising appearance.

My dear husband was moved to remark on how good the bread looked – he described it as “rustic in a professional way” and he has plans to finish the loaf at tea time with some Brie.

I admit it. I am pleased. A good morning in the kitchen, well rewarded.

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