I think I mentioned this last week, but to reiterate, I'm trying to incorporate more meatless meals into our dinner rotation. It's tough - we both love meat, especially Shane, who is a meat and potatoes guy through and through. So why am I doing it? Well, one, I know it's healthier for us to reduce the amount of meat we eat. And yes that's important. But honestly, in large part I'm also doing it to cut back on our grocery budget. It seems every time I'm at the store the prices have risen yet again, and meat is definitely one of the biggest expenses in our budget. Cutting it from just one or two meals a week adds up to big savings in the long run!
Slowly, I'm finding new recipes that make this goal more doable. In many instances, it's about baby steps, as was the case with this garlic-potato soup. The original recipe did not call for bacon, but I knew a potato soup topped with bacon would be more well received than one without it. Yes, there's some meat, but a few slices of bacon is a definite step-up from the steak I might otherwise have been tempted to serve. And the meat is no longer the focus of the meal, so that's a step in the right direction :)
This soup is packed with garlic and potato flavor, so while the bacon was a fun garnish, I definitely would have been happy without it (though I'm not sure the same can be said for Shane...). There are two kinds of potatoes - russets, which break down and thicken the soup, and Red Bliss, which up the potato flavor and maintain their shape better throughout cooking. As for the garlic, it's incorporated in three(!) ways - sauteed, poached and fried. The poached garlic heads winds up being quite similar to roasted garlic in both taste and texture (when mashed down to a paste), and it was definitely a new technique for me. We almost skipped the fried garlic chips, but I'm so glad we didn't. They were simple to make, and fun to eat (once we got over the fear of trying the first one). They're not overly garlicky, and add nice texture. This garlic-potato soup is a definite repeat here, and will be a welcome bowl of comfort as the winter nights get colder and colder!
adapted from Cook's Illustrated
4 strips thick-cut bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, diced
3 medium garlic cloves garlic, minced
2 heads garlic, rinsed, papery skins removed and top third of heads cut off and discarded
6 - 7 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 lb Red Bliss potatoes (unpeeled), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup minced fresh chives
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 medium cloves garlic, sliced thin lengthwise
Set a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat and add the bacon. Cook until crisp, stirring occasionally, then transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Drain all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat from the pot.
Add the butter and give it a minute to melt, then add the onions and cook until they've softened, about 5-8 minutes. Stir in the minced garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the garlic heads, 6 cups of the chicken broth, bay leaves and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Increase the heat to medium-high, partially cover the pot the bring the soup to a simmer. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and continue cooking until the garlic is very tender when pierced with the tip of a knife, about 30-40 minutes. Add the potatoes and continue simmering (still partially covered) until the potatoes are fork-tender, about 15-20 minutes.
Remove the bay leaves and discard. Remove the garlic heads, and squeeze at the root end so the cloves slip out of the skins (the heads will be hot, it's easier if you hold them with paper towels or tongs to do this). Use a fork to mash the garlic cloves into a smooth paste.
Mix the cream, thyme and half of the garlic paste into the soup. Continue cooking until hot, about 2 minutes. Taste the soup and decide if you want to add the remaining garlic paste (we used all of it). Turn off the heat under the pot and puree the soup with an immersion blender (or, if you don't have one, in a traditional blender - you'll probably want to do it in a few batches.) I left some chunks of potato so the soup had more texture, but you could process it further if you want. You can thin the soup with the remaining 1 cup of chicken broth if desired - I left mine thick.
Season the soup to taste with salt and pepper and serve, garnished with the garlic chips, chives, bacon, or your favorite garnish.
To make the garlic chips: Add the olive oil and garlic to a small pan or skillet and set over medium heat. Cook, stirring and turning the garlic frequently, until it is golden brown (about 3 minutes). Be very careful - you don't want to burn the garlic or it'll be bitter. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the garlic to a paper towel-lined plate. Sprinkle the chips lightly with salt.