By Patricia Winton
Please join me on alternate Thursdays at Italian Intrigues where I write about all things Italian. Next week I write about pasta and tuna.
When I was about eight years old, I stayed home from school, in bed with the flu. Nothing tasted good. And while I don’t remember my mother trying to tempt me with goodies to make me eat—she isn’t that kind of mother—she did make me potato soup. Somehow, that appealed. In fact, I liked it so much that I wanted it again and again.
Such a simple dish, potato soup. Finely chopped onions sautéed in butter until soft. Potatoes cut into tiny cubes. Simmer these two in water for a while. Salt and pepper to taste. What could be easier?
Yet for me, it evokes warmth and stability and, yes, comfort. Over the years, I’ve tried many variations. Leeks instead of onions with watercress produces traditional French vichyssoise when chilled. Sometimes I’ve added bacon and corn for a lovely chowder. Clams makes it even better. I’ve pureed the basic potato soup to make a smooth concoction and topped it with a dollop of sour cream and chives. I’ve combined the basic recipe with roasted red peppers and cream to produce a first course for a fancy dinner party. I’ve even added braised fennel and bluefish for a hearty main course. But when I’m sick, or want to feel pampered, it’s back to that simple onion, potato, and water recipe.
Once when I worked on a political campaign and stayed with comparative strangers in a city I didn’t know working with people I’d never met before, I came down with a cold. I went “home” at noon, stopping at a grocery store on the way. In the strange kitchen, I cooked my soup and ate some of it, putting the remainder in a plastic container in the fridge. Then I went to bed.
Several hours later, I woke up feeling a bit better and hankering for the leftover soup. In the kitchen I found the householder and her sister preparing their evening meal. They’d been to the grocery store, too, and everything in the fridge had shifted. I searched and searched to no avail. Finally, I asked if anybody had seen the blue plastic bowl. “Oh,” said the householder. “I had to make room for all this food. I opened that bowl and it smelled awful, so I threw it out.”
I still recall the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach almost forty years later. One woman’s comfort is another’s wormwood.