If there is one French recipe that everyone in the whole wide world should learn to make, it is potage, the blended vegetable soup that was once the start to every supper in French households. Souper, the French word for supper comes from soup and potager, the French word for kitchen garden comes from potage—that’s how ubiquitous potages used to be.
While daily potage consumption has been on the wane for years, potages still hold a big place in French kitchens, as can be seen (alas!) by the prepared versions available in packets, cartons and plastic containers at the supermarket. And there are still some wise cooks who know that there is nothing like making one’s own potage…and there is nothing to it. Most of the potage-makers I know just sauté an onion or leek, throw in whatever vegetables they feel like, add water to cover, then cook everything until it’s all soft enough to blend.
Easy, right? Sure…if you’ve made one before. If you haven’t, then a template—or master recipe—could sure come in handy. So, I wrote one down the last time I prepared a basic, this-is-how-I-first-learned-to-make-it potage. There are infinite variations on it; you can keep it simple and rustic or fancy it up the way I did for Turmeric Cauliflower Cream Soup. You can halve it for two or quintuple it for a crowd. And best of all, you can remember the proportions (1 lb. vegetables to 1 quart/1 liter liquid) so once you’ve made it a couple of times, you won’t even need to look at the recipe to whip up a French culinary classic.
Basic French Potage
This master recipe makes 6 cups of soup or enough to serve 4 people. The optional ingredients are just that; the flavor of the soup will be just fine (and actually pretty wonderful) even if you leave them out. The soup will keep 3 to 5 days in the fridge and can also be frozen.
Feel free to thin the potage with more liquid if you prefer a soupier soup. You can also stir in a spoonful of crême fraiche, sour cream, yogurt or a vegan cream substitute (cashew, tofu or other) for extra creaminess. A splash of lemon is also good, as is any pesto or herb sauce you might have on hand. (This is where I often use my jar of zhoug.)
2 tablespoons/30 g/30 ml. vegetable oil, olive oil, butter, lard, or other fat (sausage and bacon drippings are awfully good here…)
1 leek or small onion, chopped (save the leek green for another use)
1 clove garlic, minced, optional ¼ cup white wine or vermouth, optional
1 lb. chopped vegetables (my go-to combo is ¾ lb. potatoes and ¼ lb. carrots; only thing to avoid is cabbage which gives potage a funky flavor and texture)
1 quart/1 liter/4 cups water or broth
1 sprig fresh or dried thyme or ¼ tsp. dried thyme leaves
1 bay leaf, optional
Heat the oil or fat in a medium saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the leek or onion and a pinch of salt, and sauté 3 to 5 minutes, or until softened. Add the garlic ir using, and sauté 15 seconds. Add the white wine or vermouth, and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the remaining ingredients, cover, and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer 20 to 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are very soft.
Remove the soup from the heat, and blend in a blender or food processor or with a hand-held blender until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.