Quarantine Cuisine: A Rustic Potato Leek Soup

By Joanne Marino Bartram, co-author of Two Parts Italy blog

I didn’t think it would last this long. Two weeks, three at the most, and we’d see the number of new infections and deaths drop in Italy. I was overconfident. Three weeks into our “lockdown” in Tuscany (I’m writing this on March 28), we are (grazie Dio!) seeing the rates begins to come down, but slowly, slowly.  And so we remain safely tucked into our Italian homes, venturing out only for essentials (food, medicine, trash disposal). 

This piazza is usually humming with activity, but under the quarantine sits empty and quiet.

I will be honest – I have good days and more difficult ones. The vibrant social life in Lucca is part of why I love living here and I miss being able to meet for a coffee or an aperitivo. I miss seeing spring unfold around me. I miss people here and my family back home. I sometimes give in to worry or fear. But I have more good days than bad. And I remain hopeful and aware that even in the midst of all of this I have much to be thankful for – a healthy family, good friends, abundant food, music, and the kindness of people, both Italian and ex-pats from around the globe. And church bells – every day I hear church bells ringing. It’s a hopeful sound.

Spring begins along Lucca’s walls - I know it is out there, but I can’t get out and enjoy it right now (photo from 2019).
Spring begins along Lucca’s walls – I know it is out there, but I can’t get out and enjoy it right now (photo from 2019).

Cooking is a form of therapy for me. The movements used in slicing, dicing, mixing, stirring, kneading, seasoning, and tasting are a kind of meditation, a way of centering myself. Preparing food gives purpose.  Even better to cook with some music on in the background. And so, it is no surprise that my kitchen is seeing a lot of action these days. 

Leeks, thinly sliced and ready to sauté, are the base for a lovely potato leek soup.
Leeks, thinly sliced and ready to sauté, are the base for a lovely potato leek soup.

Yesterday I received two bags of groceries from friends who were heading back to their home in Canada to ride out the virus. 

They rang the doorbell, put the bags inside the entry, and never got closer than 6 feet away. It felt sad not to be able to give them a goodbye hug but the physical distancing is key and we followed the rules. In the bags were staples (pasta, wine) and some fresh veggies that would need to be used the next day – a big bunch of leeks and a bag of potatoes among them.

It was a no-brainer that a pot of potato leek soup would be on the menu.

Classic potato leek soups are puréed to a smooth and creamy consistency. They can be served cold (think French vichyssoise) or hot. Either way they are delicious. I actually prefer my soups a bit more chunky than puréed. So, with that in mind, it seemed a good time to experiment with a more rustic version of potato leek soup in which the potatoes were left unpeeled and a bit of carrot added color.  I also substituted whole milk (which I had on hand) for cream (in these days of quarantine we don’t make trips to the grocery store just for a bit of cream). For seasoning I went with thyme, salt, and pepper, which are used in the classic recipe, and added just a dash of nutmeg. Instead of making the soup into a purée, about half of the cooked potatoes were mashed to add thickness, but the rest of the soup stayed chunky. The result was delicious – not bad for quarantine cooking using what was on hand!

Rustic Potato Leek Soup
Rustic Potato Leek Soup

In Italy the catch phrase is io resto a casa ( I stay at home). I hope you too are safely at home and taking all necessary precautions wherever you are. And I hope you are still planning your next trip to Italy. 

Rustic Potato Leek Soup Recipe

3 leeks, white & light green portions only, sliced lengthwise, rinsed, sliced thin (about 4 cups)

90 grams of butter (3 oz)

2 carrots, diced small (about 1 cup)

750 grams of small white potatoes, unpeeled, cut into medium size cubes  (about 1.5 pounds)

3.5  cups chicken broth (increase to 4 cups if you like a thinner soup)

1/2 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp salt

1/8 tsp finely ground black pepper

Dash of ground nutmeg

2/3 cup whole milk or cream (let’s be honest – cream is better!)


Sauté sliced leeks in butter until limp, about 8 minutes. Add diced carrots and sauté for another 4-5 minutes.

Add chicken broth, cubed potatoes, and spices.

Cook about 20 minutes or until potatoes are soft

Add cream or milk

Depending on the consistency you like, leave soup as is, take half the potatoes out and mash them before returning to the pot, or use an immersion blender to make a less chunky soup. Buon appetito!

Joanne Marino Bartram’s post has been reposted on Pensieri from Two Parts Italy, a blog that she shares with her friend Judy Giannettino. Both are Americans who relocated to Italy in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

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