The evening began on a somewhat sour note.
“I don’t like soup for dinner,” he proclaimed. “It is too insubstantial.”
‘Twas a shame, because he was otherwise a handsome man, and intelligent. I nodded, at the same time feeling pity for him. This was a soup of Japanese sweet potatoes and shallots and garlic and onions and leeks and celery. This was a soup with bacon and cream. This was a soup of substance.
If I had been dining with M.F.K. Fisher I would have been subjected to no such nonsense. She was a fine cook, and appreciated the place of soup in a fine meal.
“It is impossible to think of any good meal, no matter how plain or elegant, without soup or bread as part of it,” Ms. Fisher would have told me as we broke bread and enjoyed watching the steam rise from our bowls.
If you agree with us, and are in need of soup, I suggest you could do much worse than make this one I have improvised. I chopped one onion, three to four cloves of garlic, and a few shallots and sautéed them in some butter and olive oil, then I added two stalks of celery and two leeks, chopped. Stir and coat the vegetables with the butter and olive oil. Peel four sweet potatoes and cut them into chunks, then add them to the pot and stir.
You’ll have a pot of chicken stock on the burner, and it will be hot. Pour four to six cups of it over the vegetables, until they are barely covered with the liquid. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer, partially covered, until the sweet potatoes are soft. (Yes, it is perfectly acceptable to add some herbs or spices, in addition to — at the end and before you serve it — salt and pepper. I have used tarragon, and once had success with fresh thyme.)
You’ll recall that I mentioned bacon. And cream. Knowing how you cook, I am confident that you have already fried the bacon and have cut it into small pieces. Add the pork and some cream to the pot after you purée the soup with an immersion blender. (I strain mine, too.)
Mix well and ladle into warm bowls, then bring the gentleman to the table and show him the error of his ways.
Japanese Sweet Potato Soup (In homage to M.F.K. Fisher)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
One large white onion, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
2 shallots, minced
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 leeks, bright green and white parts only, chopped
Four Japanese sweet potatoes (available at Central Market), peeled, cut into quarters or smaller depending on their size
4 to 6 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup heavy cream (more or less to taste)
4 pieces bacon, cooked and cut into small pieces
Parsley to garnish
salt, black pepper
Melt butter and heat olive oil in large pot over medium heat until butter melts. Add onion, garlic, and shallots and sweat them for 5-8 minutes, stirring to coat them in the butter and oil.
Add the celery and leeks and stir; cook for 10 additional minutes or so on medium-low heat, until leeks and celery soften. You can add your herbs or spices now.
Add the sweet potatoes to the vegetables, then cover with hot stock. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and allow for 45 minutes or so.
Stir in cream, if you wish, and add the bacon (reserve a few pieces to use as a garnish).
Stir soup well, then use your immersion blender to purée. (If you don’t have one, carefully pour the soup into a blender, in batches, and blend to desired consistency. You can put through a fine strainer next if you want a wonderfully smooth soup, then season with salt and pepper.
Serve in bowls, and garnish with parsley and bacon.