Eating on a Budget: The Penny-Pinching Epicure's Soup Kettle

Here's how to whip up a healthy French country cousin of vichyssoise and other great concoctions including chicken broth, fast borsch, French onion soup, green soup, bouillabaisse, and more.

| January/February 1973

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    With these ingredients you can make basic beef stock.
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    Use these if you have a yen for New England fish chowder.
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    A little bread and cheese is a worthy accompaniment to French onion soup.
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    Some of the ingredients you'll need for basic chicken broth.

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My great-grandmother—who began married life and bore her first six of twelve children in a sod house in Kansas — became a penny-pinching, epicurean cook through necessity coupled with talent.

If great-grandma's pantry contained only a bone, a handful of carrots, a couple of onions and a few potatoes left over from planting. . . she simmered them with half a bucket of spring water and a few magical herbs from her kitchen doorstep till the tantalizing aroma lured workers from the fields and children from play. And if the onions and potatoes were missing (as was often the case), she just braised the carrots and bone with marjoram and bay and gently bubbled them with the dregs of a bottle of ketchup and some water to create a superb carrot soup.

In that spirit, assuming you have all the following ingredients (leftovers or otherwise), here's how to whip up a healthy French country cousin of vichyssoise.

Potage Bonne Femme

(Good Woman's Thick Soup)
1 chicken carcass or chicken bones with some meat left on them
2 large potatoes, thinly peeled and cut into 1" chunks or unpeeled and cut into 1/2" chunks
2 medium leeks, cut vertically, washed and cut into 1" pieces
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried or 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh marjoram
1/2 teaspoon dried or 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil
1/4 teaspoon coarsely, freshly ground pepper
4 cups water
2 cups milk and salt to taste

Put everything but the milk into a Dutch oven or large kettle. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer one hour. Cool, remove chicken bones, pick off the meat and return it to the kettle. Whizz the soup — two cupfuls at a time — in a blender or whip it vigorously in the pot with an eggbeater till the individual ingredients nearly disappear. Reheat the mixture to just boiling and add the milk. Stir, taste and add more salt if needed.

If you're in a hungry hurry, don't bother with the blender or eggbeater. Just take out the bones and serve the golden, aromatic broth generously filled with bites of chicken, potato and leek with squares of pale green leek tops floating on top. Either way, the soup—with garlic toast, cheese and fresh apples—should make a meal for six people.

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