Friday night is the best night of the entire week. It signals freedom, providing a definite end to the week that was and a window into the weekend that might be. For me it’s an afternoon spent thinking about food and an evening of slow, pleasurable cooking. And eating, more to the point. Probably more than I should – but who cares, it’s Friday, right?
Humble though the potato may be, it never ceases to amaze me that it can be elevated to the most amazing heights. Is there anything it cannot do? In combination with other, equally humble ingredients, it never fails to surprise me.
So, on my own again with the Artist working overseas, I needed something lovely, but easy. Autumn is here, officially that is, so despite the fact that the day had been quite warm, I settled on a potato soup. Something buttery, creamy and soothing with a little bit of bite.
The fish: A tapenade of anchovies and black olives. Okay, so this is a loose interpretation of ‘fish’, but somehow it’s right here, providing the necessary oomph to cut through the creamy soup. Take 6 anchovy fillets out of their jar, drain them on a bit of kitchen paper to mop up any excess oil then place them in a little dish and cover with some milk. Let them sit for about ten minutes before draining and patting dry again. Now chop them really finely. Take 12 black olives, bash them with the flat of your knife and pull out the pits (they should come away easily) then chop the olive flesh as finely as the anchovies. Take a tablespoon of capers, drain and rinse them, then roughly chop them too. Mix it all together and there’s your tapenade, ready for the soup.
The potatoes: The soup is thick and creamy and is finished with a thread of truffle oil, a tiny bottle of which was given to me and has sat unopened at the back of the cupboard for two years. I was starting to feel sorry for it, but any really good olive oil would be just as welcome. And it’s just occurred to me that if you soaked the hard rind from a chunk of parmesan in a jar of olive oil for one month, the resulting oil would be spectacular with this. And almost anything else you can imagine…yum.
This will comfortably feed four very hungry people not at all concerned about the tightness of their waistbands. Otherwise it will serve six, though you'll need more food to follow and there won't be any leftovers. This is the sort of thing that will feed people well, get you all sorts of complements and there's no great financial outlay for the cook. All in all a winner methinks.
Potato soup with tapenade and truffle oil – serves 4 (in theory)
You do not need to use truffle oil – it’s not essential by any means. Substitute with a good extra virgin (how that still make me giggle!) olive oil.
900g of potatoes (either waxy or floury ones – I used kipflers as that was what was in the drawer)
100g of butter
2 red onions, peeled and finely sliced
2 bay leaves
4 tablespoons of double or sour cream
1 quantity of tapenade (see ‘the fish’, above)
2 tablespoons of truffle oil (see the introduction)
Scrub the potatoes well then slice them very, very thinly. One of those cheap plastic mandolins does the job admirably, but you do have to watch your fingers - a sharp knife is just as good. Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the onions and bay leaves and cook over the lowest heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. They need to soften, but not brown.
Add the sliced potato to the pan and stir well. Continue to cook over a low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 litre of boiling water. Bring to the boil, then cover with a lid and lower the heat to a simmer, cooking for 40 minutes.
Pick out and discard the bay leaves. Liquidize the soup in small batches in a blender. It should be velvety smooth, so blend it for perhaps longer than you might think sensible. Pour the now smooth soup back into the pan, stir in the cream and check the consistency of the soup – it might need more boiling water added if it’s too thick for your liking. Taste for seasoning (it might need a bit more salt – mine did) and gently reheat without boiling.
Ladle the soup into bowls and place a dollop of tapenade in the centre of each. Pour a little oil in a rough circle around the tapenade and serve it, piping hot.