Potage à la Ménagère is a simple puréed vegetable soup, not a recipe you’ll find in Escoffier. (I checked.) Rather it’s housewife soup that speaks of French frugality. Eating it transports me to a scene in a 1930’s black and white film. There, in a country kitchen at a wooden table set with enormous spoons, a family sits quietly eating soup with thick slices of crusty bread.

Once upon a time, this type of soup starred in the evening meal in France. Chef Jean Pierre Vuillermet, the owner of Union League Café in New Haven, remembers it as something his grandparents ate, a little too old school for his taste today. His grandfather would shave pieces of Gruyère or Comté cheese over it. And milk would be offered to enrich it. But another French friend, Colette Hatch, makes it all of the time. She keeps the juices and cooking liquid from kale and other leaf veggies then opens the fridge to decide what to make.

“My mother always added onion, garlic, bay leaf and sometimes a bit of cloves,” she says. “The French believed in using all of these spices that get your guts cleaned up in the winter time. Sometimes if you wanted to be fancy you would brown some finely sliced baguettes in butter and rub them with a clove of fresh garlic… this would be the garnish… the sky is the limit and it is so good in the winter time.”

Cook like a peasant; eat like a King I say. This is a heart-warming soup from the French country side, whether real or imagined.

Most of us have the key ingredients on hand – onions, potatoes and carrots. Leeks and garlic add depth of flavor. Turnips, pumpkin and squash work well too. (For that old-school flavor, first timers might want to stick to this basic formula then experiment with a second batch.)

In terms of equipment, a high speed blender or food processor gives the soup a velvety texture but even a food mill will work. Have some hot stock or water on hand should you want to thin the soup. Charlie likes a splash of cream added at the end. Colette uses crème fraîche. But I prefer my flourish in the garnish. I had the long stems from some beet greens on hand that I added for color and texture. Then salty garlic croutons finish the dish.

Potage Ménagère – French Home-Style Vegetable Soup

Yield: 4 Servings, approximately 6 ½ cups

Serving Size: 12 ounces

Ingredients

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large shallot, peeled, trimmed, and minced, about 2 Tablespoons
2 cloves garlic, minced, about 1 Tablespoon
2 small leeks, trimmed learning 1-inch of green, split, washed free of all grit and sliced thinly, about 1 ½ cups
1 small onion, minced, about 1 cup
1 small fennel bulb, greens removed, chopped coarse, about 2 cups
1 celery stalk, chopped coarse, about ½ cup
2 carrots, peeled, diced, about 1 cup
2 small Idaho potatoes, peeled, diced, about 2 cups
1 medium-sized onion, peeled and spiked with 1 clove
1 ½ quarts light chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
1 onion piquet (a peeled onion onto which a bay leaf is affixed with 2 or 3 cloves)
Salt and black pepper
Garnishes: Garlic Croutons, diced parsley, diced cooked vegetables, grated cheese, warmed milk or cream

Directions

  1. Melt the butter in a deep saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add the shallots, garlic, leeks and onion. Sauté until tender and translucent, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients. Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook until the vegetables are uniformly tender, approximately 45 minutes to an hour.
  4. Remove the onion piquet. Purée the soup in a blender or food processor until smooth and creamy.
  5. Season with salt and pepper. Add additional stock should the mixture be too thick. Reheat until simmering.
  6. Serve in warmed shallow soup bowls garnished with Garlic Croutons.

(The New York Public Library owns thousands of menus that it is scanning and indexing on its site.  There I found this menu from the St. Regis Hotel in New York from 1906.  Look what’s offered among the soups.)

Hotel St Regis 1906 MENU