Tuesday Dinner: Potato-Leek with Sage & Romano

Autumn has finally arrived. I know the official day of the Equiox was last week, but the thermometer was clearly in the “summer” range until this weekend. I’m happy to wear thermal shirts again—it’s not quite sweater weather—and drink herbal tea instead of bubbly water. It’s time to get the fireplace ready and order some new cozy slippers.

And of course it’s a great time to make and eat soup…

Last Friday I had a great time co-opping at school, making apple head dolls with the kids. (Or at least we started the head part of the project; clothes and hair and hats will come later, after the apples shrink and wrinkle.) I love a creative project, but it was painful torture peeling twenty apples with a dull knife. Quite a contrast to the relative pleasure of peeling fifteen pounds of potatoes with a dedicated (and sharp!) vegetable peeler for this soup. Thank goodness for proper tools.

The soup is equal parts leek and potato, with garlic and scallions thrown in for good measure. Potato-leek can be refined and smooth and creamy and even served cold in the summer. But this is autumn, so I left it with some texture, and added sage. Instead of the expected addition of cream, we’ve got a generous amount of Pecorino Romano. I was reading Marcella Hazan over the weekend, and she’s rather dismissive of Romano: “Romano…is so sharp and pungent that only a singular palate is likely to find it agreeable as a table cheese. Its place is the grater, and its use is with a limited group of pasta sauces that benefit from its piquancy.” 

But I like the earthiness of sheeps’ milk—sheeps’ milk Feta is my favorite, sheeps’ milk yogurt is delicious. Pecorino Romano is so tangy and salty, and gives this rustic version of potato leek soup an umami depth that is very welcome.

Since I gave the soup an Italian edge, I followed up with a quasi-Italian salad. Baby spinach is combined with olives, diced salami, shaved fennel, and red onions, with a fennel-mustard vinaigrette. Bold and punchy, not a side salad that stays on the sidelines.

I’ve been making the apple-pecan cake for years and years. It’s mostly apples—it’s got twice as much chopped apples as flour. There are lots of toasted pecans, and a touch or orange juice. I like orange juice with apples. Our family recipe for Apple Betty has o.j. in it too; maybe that’s why my dad and I like this cake so much.

The recipe came from a now-defunct food newsletter called Cook and Tell, written by Karyl Bannister. It was a sweet publication, full of accessible recipes, cute illustrations, and lots of chit-chat. She would include news from various subscribers, descriptions of her life on an island in Maine, notes about new products she’d tried or recipes that failed. And it came in the mail—I miss good mail.

I was very excited to see that the Fairfax Library is hosting a letter-writing salon this month. Here’s the description from their website: “When was the last time some received mail from you? You bring your address book; we provide beautiful notepaper, postcards, collage materials, pens, stamps, and even a typewriter or two. This program is for teens and adults.” It’s October 19th, from 2-4pm. Hope to see some of you there!

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