Simplest Leek and Chickpea Soup

Semplicissima di Porri e Ceci

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Easy

  • 4

    ample, 6 moderate portions

Appears in

We had the briefest of honeymoons, Victor and I, a single winter night in a pensione in Sirmione, a narrow peninsula at the southern end of Lake Garda, a tongue-like extension of land impudently stuck into the underbelly of the huge lake. Sirmione has since been devastated by tourism and the cheap shops and souvenir stalls that cater to it, but it was empty then, and the most romantic of places. We clambered over the ruins of a Roman bath, past a grove of olive trees planted before the birth of Christ, to reach the lake’s icy edge, our exhalations dissolving in the wintry mist as we gaily chucked stones to see who could send them bouncing farthest over the water.

The evening we arrived the pensione served us leek and potato soup, an event that to this day Victor seems to recall more sharply than anything else that took place during our stay. It was, admittedly, a splendid soup, and both of us have adored leeks ever since.

I use leeks in many ways, nearly always in combination with another vegetable, such as the dish of leeks and artichokes in one of my previous books, a great favorite of ours. None of the things I do, however, is so simple as this aptly named “simplest” soup. Except for trimming the leeks and slowly cooking them in olive oil—not a daunting task for even the least expert of cooks—the most difficult things you have to do are opening a can of chickpeas and grating some Parmesan.

There is something about the flavor of chickpeas that yearns to be coupled with a member of the onion family. There are many such matches, but none more congenial than this one.

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Ingredients

  • pounds leeks
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • One 16-ounce can chickpeas, drained
  • A beef bouillon cube
  • Black pepper ground fresh
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Method

  1. Trim away the root end of the leeks and any part of the green tops that is wilted, bruised and discolored, or dry. Cut the remainder into thin disks. Soak in several changes of cold water. Drain and spin or shake dry.
  2. Put the leeks in a medium saucepan, add the olive oil and salt, turn on the heat to medium low, cover the pan, and cook the leeks at a slow pace, turning them over from time to time, until they are nearly dissolved.
  3. While the leeks are cooking, skin the chickpeas by squeezing off the peel between your fingers. When the leeks are very soft and creamy, add the chickpeas, enough water to cover by 1 to 2 inches, and the bouillon cube. Turn over the contents of the pot with a wooden spoon, put back the lid, and cook for another 15 minutes.
  4. Take two or three ladlefuls out of the soup and puree them back into the pot through a food mill, or chop briefly in a food processor. Add liberal grindings of black pepper to the pot, swirl in the grated Parmesan, cook for 5 minutes longer, taste and correct for seasoning, and serve. In the final stage of cooking, adjust density to suit you. This soup tastes best to me when it is neither too thick nor too runny.

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