Airing for the first time on PBS in 1963, Julia Child transfixed a nation with her larger than life personality. An incredibly talented and passionate chef, Child trained in France at Le Cordon Bleu in the late 1940's. Famously bringing French cooking to the U.S., Child made a formidable cuisine accessible to ordinary home chefs like you and I.
While her culinary career and authorship of Mastering the Art of French Cooking with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle are what Child is most famously known for, her history beforehand is equally compelling.
During the height of WWII, Child worked for the Office of Strategic Services in Washington, D.C., first as a typist then later as a secret researcher. The OSS, the CIA's organizational predecessor, was an intelligence agency developed to combat and intercept communications from Germany and Japan. In 1943, while stationed in what is present day Sri Lanka, Child would develop a "shark repellent" (I kid you not), used to deter sharks away from underwater mines that could be triggered by their curiosity.
I first became interested Child when I was 16 and working at Coas bookstore in downtown Las Cruces. I was doing an intake on books recently turned in to us for credit, when I came across Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The distinctive Alfred A. Knopf cover and worn spine immediately drew me in, and I was spellbound by what appeared to me to be a home chef's bible.
10 years later I can't say I've mastered French cooking, but I have and do greatly enjoy getting my copy of Child's book off my kitchen shelf where I store all my favorite cookbook's, leafing through the pages at random, until a dish jumps out at me that I must create.
Case in point, today's featured recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking is Child' recipe for Potato & Leek soup, a cozy, comforting dish that has a beautiful hint of green to its color. For all you East Coasters stuck in the snow storm, this one's for you.
3 cups sliced leeks, white and tender green parts
3 cups peeled and roughly chopped potatoes
6 cups water
11/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
1/3 cup minced chives or parsley
In a large heavy saucepan, bring the leeks, potatoes, water, and salt to the boil over high heat. Cover partially, reduce heat, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Correct the seasoning, to taste, and puree with a handheld immersion blender, or in batches in a food processor.
Whisk in the cream and reheat before serving. Top each serving with a dollop of creme fraiche and sprinkling of fresh chives.
Simply, easy, and delicious.