Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and I’m making these recipes for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and um, challenges, along the way and we’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!
Episode: “Comfort Classics Close-up”
The Set-up: A magazine article on comfort food has Ina re-examining the classic, while Miguel snaps the photos.
0:22 – Ina’s platter of Bagels with Smoked Salmon & Whitefish Salad is inspired by the appetizing provisions her grandparents used to bring from Brooklyn. She teases them a little, but really Connecticut in the 1950s might not have been the ideal place to find a great bagel.
1:16 – First step, peel and de-bone a whole smoked whitefish and she warns us that actually procuring one might require a little translation.
2:39 – Ina is trying to hard to make this accessible, but really what you need is a good delicatessen – like Barney Greengrass or Russ & Daughters – or a specialty store. Trying to get whitefish at your average fish counter is not likely to result in success.
3:54 – This is a pretty messy job, some seriously hands on work removing the bones and flaking the meat of the smoked whitefish. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had whitefish salad, but it looks really good.
4:31 – Over to Miguel who is setting the scene for the bagel platter with reed mats and simple cutlery.
5:12 – Pro Tip #1: Ina recommends cutting the bagel in thirds – flat on a board, hand on top, watch your fingers! – to get thinner, crispier pieces. Pro Tip #2: Give a bagel platter some height and visual interest by placing the salmon in a herringbone pattern.
6:33 – Whoa, this is some next level trickery. She’s using two whole leaves of radicchio to form bowls for the cream cheese and whitefish salad.
7:25 – A few more layering pieces – slices of lemon, tomato, red onion – and the platter is complete. Wisely, Ina makes Miguel a side plate so he won’t be tempted to devour the platter before the photos are taken!
10:19 – Now we’re moving on to Virgin Marys and I hope you’ll forgive me if I tune out for a moment while she makes these. Cold, spicy tomato juice is one of my least favorite things – not as bad as soggy bread, worse than corn dog.
12:30 – Okay I’m back and whatever took place to make that pitcher of red liquid has been lost to the sands of time.
13:47 – Miguel photographs the set-up of the bagel platter & drinks – now realistically posed thanks to their sips out of the glasses – while Ina moves on to lunch prep.
14:28 – Interesting, the recipe for Potato Leek Soup is essentially a revitalized version of the French soup vichyssoise. Trust the French to transform really rustic ingredients with an uber-elegant name.
15:11 – Ina warns us to wash the leeks really, really carefully since “there’s absolutely no point in making soup if it’s full of sand.” Word.
16:02 – The final step of roasting the vegetables is a handful or two of arugula wilted in at the end. That’s a new one to me…
20:45 – Veggies are out of the oven and now another unique step – the sheet pan goes right on the stove so that Ina can deglaze the browned bits with some white wine.
21:16 – We differ on the texture – Ina prefers something chunky and a little coarse, while I really love a smooth, perfectly blended soup.
22:39 – I’m not sure if vichyssoise traditionally has cream, but Ina is adding both cream and crème fraîche for tang.
23:50 – We check in with Miguel who has assembled a different table setting for the soup – a rustic cheese board is the center piece. I love seeing the choices that another photographer/stylist makes.
24:23 – Ina has made some crispy shallots for a soup garnish and says they take 40-50 minutes to fry. Holy cow.
27:08 – Last up, Herb Garlic Bread. Basil, parsley, garlic all sautéed in olive oil and drizzled into the center of a crunchy baguette. I bet this tastes amazing before it even hits the oven.
28:21 – Finishing touches on the soup, while the bread is in the oven and then everything goes on the table for Miguel to shoot.
29:56 – No side plate of soup this time, so he’ll have to work fast! Wonder if Miguel needs an assistant…?
It’s amazing how the right light and staging really bring out the beauty in food.
Mike would approve of the crispy shallots and flaked shards of parmesan, he loves a textural contrast.
Pretty sure that Potato Leek soup is running in these Irish veins.
I decided to make Potato Leek Soup out of curiosity – could Ina take very simple base ingredients and transform them? Short answer: yes. Long answer: here’s what I learned along the way….
Vegetable Prep – the recipe calls for peeled Yukon gold (aka butter) potatoes, but I realized after the fact that it probably isn’t 100% necessary. This is a rustic, textured soup after all, and why waste those vitamins? My blender is more than up to the challenge of a few thin skins, so next time I’ll probably skip that step and just wash them well.
Roasting Vegetables – I managed to resist crowding the vegetables on the pan, a key element in roasting. The potatoes and leeks need space, otherwise they steam and don’t get the browning caramelization that deepens the flavor.
Deglazing a Baking Sheet – My kitchen has a gas stove and I could write a whole post about why I prefer it, but this is just one example: you actually can put a roasting pan or sheet tray on top. If, however, you’re working with an electric or induction stove fear not - just add the white wine and stock to the rimmed sheet while it’s still hot do a little scraping and put it back the oven if you need a little more heat. No stovetop cooking needed.
Flavor & Ingredients – Ina and I rarely disagree, but I wasn’t sure I liked Potato Leek Soup when I first tasted it. The creaminess was a little much and even with the white wine to provide acid it seemed out of balance, until I realized I had left out the parmesan cheese. I nearly didn’t put it in since the flavor was already trending cheesy to my palate, so I did a test with a sprinkle in a small spoonful and amazingly it was so, so much better. A lesson I occasionally have to re-learn: check the ingredients and make sure they’re all in!
Shallots – I also nearly skipped this step, 30 minutes to fry some shallots (!?) In the end though, I was convinced that I should finish all the steps and I’m really glad that I did. Just like that little bit of parmesan, the crisp shallots add a different texture and a new layer of flavor to the soup. Worth the effort, but don’t forget to turn down the heat once your oil is hot or you’ll have singed shallots. Might have burnt the first batch…sorry neighbors!
Small Kitchen Friendly?
Probably. I used one rimmed baking sheet, a blender (a food processor or stick blender would work too), a 5.5 qt French oven, small sauce pan, a medium cutting board, chef’s knife, vegetable peeler, microplane grater, a wooden spatula, ladle, measuring cups and spoons.
This Potato Leek Soup with its starches, cream, and cheese should taste heavy and too rich, but magically it doesn’t. The flavor is deep and satisfying, perfect for a mid-autumn supper or as a starter. Particularly helpful when you’re entertaining since it can be made a few days in advance allowing the ingredients to meld. I made this on a weekend and stashed it in the fridge to deploy for a quick dinner – just add grilled cheese and green salad. Keep this one in your back pocket for this winter when a little simmering feels like a good idea.