- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2004

When the outdoor temperature registers a number that’s lower than your age (or the age of your grandchildren, if that’s of greater impact) you need food that doubles as a defrosting agent. In other words, you have to have soup on your menu.

A hot and hearty bowl of soup puts the steam on your glasses, takes the red out of your fingertips and makes you feel nourished. That’s quite a list of accomplishments from a single recipe. As beneficial as soup is, it’s also easy to prepare. You don’t have to spend hours over the stove to make a robust bowl of soup.

My favorite quick and filling soups start with the standard white sauce I learned in high school home economics. To make it, melt butter, stir in flour and add milk or cream. It takes about 10 minutes tops to create.

The total time required to prepare soup depends on what flavorings you add. For example, add a package of frozen broccoli and some shredded cheddar cheese and you have a dish in minutes. Add a vegetable that requires cooking, and your soup will be ready in twice the time.

Although you’re in need of a fast hot meal, don’t overlook potatoes as part of the recipe. Although potatoes take about 20 to 25 minutes to prepare, they’re so satisfying you’ll welcome the addition.

In the following recipe, I pair fingerling potatoes with pancetta. If you don’t have the long, gnarled-looking potatoes in your supermarket, substitute small Yukon gold potatoes.

Potato and pancetta chowder

½ pound (about 4 potatoes) fingerling potatoes

Salt

4 ounces pancetta or thick bacon

1 leek, trimmed, white part only chopped

1 cup chopped shiitake mushrooms

1 tablespoon olive oil, optional

2 tablespoons flour

¼ teaspoon crushed dried thyme

½ cup half-and-half

1 cup milk

1 cup chicken broth

Pepper

Place potatoes in a small pan with salted water to cover. Boil for 20 to 25 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Drain. Do not peel. Cut potatoes into ½-inch-thick slices. Set aside.

Fry pancetta for 3 minutes per side in a large skillet. Remove and dice. (If using bacon, instead, fry until crisp. Remove to paper-towel-lined plate. Drain and dice.) Add leek and mushrooms to skillet. If there’s not enough fat to cook the vegetables, add oil. Saute vegetables 5 minutes or until tender and lightly browned.

Sprinkle on flour. Stir until flour is absorbed into fat. Add thyme and half-and-half. Cook over low heat until mixture is thickened, stirring constantly. Add milk and chicken broth. Add potatoes and pancetta. Season lightly with salt and generously with pepper. Simmer 5 minutes. Makes 2 servings.

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