Leek & Blue Cheese Soup

Thanksgiving doesn’t have a special song, like Jingle Bells or Easter Parade. But all around the country, home cooks are singing the same tune and it’s a lament: “I spent two days slaving in the kitchen, and the meal is over in less than an hour!”

Here’s a case where Americans should take a clue from Europe. Eat in courses, folks! In Italy, the same amount of food we pile onto the Thanksgiving table all at once would be broken down into multiple courses. Everything would have its moment in the spotlight, its appreciative applause, maybe even its own wine pairing, then you move on. That’s Slow Food in action, and, in my opinion, it’s the best way to indulge, savor, and enjoy.

My compromise position on this holiday is to serve a Thanksgiving soup. No one balks. No traditions are betrayed. And who can resist a creamy butternut squash bisque or an earthy mushroom and wild rice soup?

This year, I went to my friend Cecelia’s for Thanksgiving. Being of the same mind, she decided to serve a soup as a first course. But wanting to try something different, she reached for her trusty cookbook Best-Ever Soups by Anne Sheasby (Hermes House, 2006) and came up with this: Irish Leek and Blue Cheese Soup.

It was marvelous. Much lighter than it sounds, the soup’s ingredients harmonize so well that you’d be hard-pressed to identify the blue cheese (we used gorgonzola) or the mustard (ours was wholegrain Dijon) if you didn’t know they were there. These add subtle layers of flavor to the mellow leeks (from Cecelia’s own garden) and chicken broth.

A white wine is in order for these ethereal flavours, and our sparkling Prosecco was a perfect match, as festive as the occasion.

Serves 6

The blue cheese is an integral part of this substantial soup, which makes full use of ingredients that have always been important in Irish cooking. It can be a good way to use of cheese left over from the cheeseboard. Serve with freshly baked brown bread.

3 large leeks
1/4 cup butter (2 oz)
2 tbsp oil
4 oz Irish blue cheese, such as Cashel Blue
2 tbsp flour
1 tbsp wholegrain Irish mustard, or to taste
2-1/2 pints (6-1/4 cups) chicken stock
ground black pepper
1/2 cups (2 oz) grated cheese and chopped chives or spring onion, to garnish

Variation: Any melting blue-veined cheese can be used in this recipe, such as Cabrales, Gorgonzola, or Picon.

1. Slice the leeks thinly. Heat the butter and oil together in a large heavy pan and gently cook the leeks in it, covered for 10-15 minutes, or until just softened but not brown.

2. Grate the cheese coarsely and add it to the pan, stirring over a low heat until it is melted. Add the flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, then add ground black pepper and mustard to taste.

3. Gradually add the stock, stirring constantly and blending it in well; bring the soup to a boil.

4. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer very gently for about 15 minutes. Check the seasoning.

5. Serve the soup garnished with the extra grated cheese and the chopped chives or spring onion greens, and hand fresh bread around separately.

205 cal./serving

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