Thursday, November 1, 2007

Fall Foods: Traditional Irish Soups and Breads

With Fall in the air and the weather turning crisp, what tastes better than a good hot, homemade bowl of soup and some fresh bread?

Soup has actually been part of traditional Irish cooking for generations. It's a natural choice given the abundance of vegetables, high-quality meats and the delicious harvest from their rivers and seas. Soup-making is a wonderful way of packing really good ingredients into one bowl to create a great starter or complete meal. A great all-rounder, soup can be served hot and steaming on a cold winter's day or chilled and refreshing in a summer brunch; as a light starter to dinner party or a meal in itself.

Irish brown bread is a staple of the famous Irish Country Breakfast but you're just as likely to find it in the bread basket at a fancy restaurant. It's made of a special wholemeal wheat flour that gives it a nutty flavor and slightly coarse texture. Irish Soda Bread is another staple of Irish cuisine. And many Irish children have been lucky enough to enjoy freshly baked soda bread as part of their upbringing.

I can't think of a better meal on a fall evening, while cuddling in my Irish throw than a bowl of wholesome soup and fresh bread, and don't forget the Irish Butter.

This is one my favorite soups; Irish Leek and Potato Soup from Nualla Cullen's fantastic book, Irish Soups & Breads.

1 1/4 lbs leeks
3 medium potatoes
3 sticks celery
2 large garlic cloves
4 tablespoons butter
5 1/2 cups chicken stock or light vegetable stock
salt and pepper
3 scallions, very finely chopped (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped chervil (optional) or parsley (optional)
potato croutons (optional)

1. Peel and chop the potatoes into cubes. Finely chop the garlic, the cleaned leeks and the celery.
2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the vegetables and gently cook about 10 minutes or so until the butter is absorbed, but don't allow to brown.
3. Add 3/4 of the stock and simmer until the potatoes are soft, about 15 minutes.
4. Puree the soup in two batches in a blender and add the balance of the stock.
5. To serve, mix the croutons, scallions and parsley together and mound a large spoonful on top of each bowl.