I studied in the south of France during college, and like so many cooks before me, it’s where I discovered my passion for food. As the weather cooled, my host mom (mère Michelle) would serve a steaming bowl of potage to start each meal. It was a thick soup of pureed vegetables—whatever she picked up from the market that day—with root vegetables as the base. It was hazy with aromas of garlic and herbs, warming and pure. This version is as simple as it is satisfying. It has a base of onions, carrots and celery, scented with garlic and thyme, and is thickened with sweet potatoes. The whole thing comes together in less than thirty minutes. To make a meal of it, I serve the soup with cheddar crisps, my own American-grilled-cheese interpretation. This is comfort food, after all. Baguette slices get toasted until crisp, then topped with shredded cheddar (or whatever cheese I have on hand) and popped back in the oven until the cheese is melted. Sometimes I rub the toasted bread with garlic before adding the cheese, for an extra kick.
The meal takes me right back to France, while rooting me here in America. It’s the perfect meal to escape these mid-winter meal blues.
Quick Vegetable Potage with Cheddar Crisps
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil , plus more for brushing crisps
- 2 medium onions , diced
- 2 medium carrots , peeled and diced
- 2 stalks celery , diced
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt , divided, plus additional for seasoning
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper , plus additional for seasoning
- 2 large garlic cloves , coarsely chopped
- 1 ½ lbs sweet potatoes (2 medium), peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 sprigs thyme
- 1 lemon wedge
- ½ baguette , cut on the diagonal into ½-inch slices
- 1 cup packed shredded cheddar (2.5-ounces)
Preheat the oven to 450˚F. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil.
In a large saucepan, heat ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots and celery, along with 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Add the sweet potatoes, bay leaves, thyme sprigs and remaining ½ teaspoon salt, along with 5 cups water. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, partially covered, 10-15 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes and vegetables are tender.
Remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Using a blender or hand blender, puree the soup until smooth. Season with salt, pepper and a few drops of lemon juice to taste.
In the meantime, make the cheddar crisps. Line the baguette slices on the prepared baking sheet and brush them lightly on both sides with olive oil. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Bake 4-6 minutes, or until lightly crisp on top. Turn the bread over and cook another 3-5 minutes, or until crisp on the other side. Mound the cheese evenly over each crisp. Bake 1-2 minutes, or until the cheese is just melted. Serve warm or at room temperature with the soup.