Potato soup has many incarnations, and this Potato-Cheese Soup with Bacon is a combo of two favorite soup memories of mine (potato-cheese soup at the late-twentieth-century cas-din chain, "The Black-Eyed Pea," and a hearty bacon-potato soup made by one J. Meyer for a winter birthday last year). I got to thinking about the warming, cozying qualities of potato soup last week, when we had a cold spell (below 40!) in New Orleans. Brrrrr. Anyway, it was time to get to work.
Recreating soups I've eaten at restaurants or other gatherings is a favorite activity of mine, but I'd never attempted to make one that was so far back in my memory. I ate that soup at the Black-Eyed Pea when I was, let's say, 12. We'd recently moved to the Tulsa area. We're talking 1984. But after smelling the cooking bacon (I can do anything when I smell that, seriously), I remembered something else about that soup, by way of another potato memory. I ate some marvelous potato salad at Jason's Deli, about 6 years ago, wherein I tasted a familiar tang--a grassiness, if you will--that I had only ever experienced at...The Black-Eyed Pea! But this time, I was old enough, and obsessed with food enough, to know what the kicker was. Dill. Sweet, soft, licorice-y dill. I believe the potatoes of the world go best with--and indeed, deserve--the fresh featheriness of said herb. Try it. You will believe.
The bacon contributes a subtle undertone to the soup because the vegetables are cooked in its pan bits, but really dresses up the finished bowl as a crunchy garnish. The dill and bacon do not fight. They play surprisingly well together.
Potato-Cheese Soup with Bacon
- 6 slices bacon
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 medium or large carrots, diced small
- 2 stalks celery, diced small
- 3 pounds red potatoes, peeled and diced (you can leave some pieces pretty big, because the smaller pieces will disintegrate into the soup)
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 2 to 3 cups milk
- 8 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh dill
- salt and pepper to taste
- optional: a few dashes of something hot, like Tabasco
- Cook the bacon slices in a medium soup pot (6 or 8 quarts will work) over medium heat, until slightly crispy. Set aside and drain all but 1 tablespoon of drippings from the pot. Don't clean out the browned bits.
- In the same pot with the bacon-y bits, saute the onion, carrot, and celery over medium heat until tender, about 10 minutes. The mixture should be starting to dry out by then.
- Add the stock and chopped potatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low simmer, and simmer covered for about 30 minutes, until the potatoes are starting to fall apart into the stock.
- Turn off the heat, stir in the milk, and add the cheese and dill.
- Turn the heat back on to the lowest or next-to-lowest setting--you don't want to scorch the milk, but you want the cheese to heat up so you can tell what's up with the seasonings.
- Add salt and pepper to taste (and optional hot thing). I started with about 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of black pepper, and went from there.
- Crumble the reserved bacon and use it to top each serving.
Note: We had this with a crunchy salad: baby greens, chopped pears, toasted pecans, and some croutons made from rosemary bread. Toss that with a balsamic vinaigrette, and you're set.