Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Cours Maintenon Soup

As a sophomore in high school, I attended a girls' boarding school in Cannes, France called Cours Maintenon. It was run by an impressive and intimidating headmistress named Madame Blay (pronounced like the tyrannical captain of HMS Bounty) whose steely authority we flouted at every opportunity and whose punishments we often deserved. I learned geometry in French with the difficult bits being translated by another American girl who had already taken geometry and was fluent in French - to this day I pronounce hypotenuse with an accent nicoise, not that I have occasion to pronounce it often.

The food at Cours Maintenon was plain but delicious and abundant - even French girls of roughly teen age are well fed. We had fresh bread and divinely creamy butter and jam with tea for breakfast, what an American would call dinner at lunchtime preceded by phys ed and followed by an hour's nap, and a lighter dinner. I have never eaten so much in my life and I actually lost weight - what is it about the air of France that even Americans can take part in the French Paradox when they live there?

Anyway, one of my favorite dishes was Potage Parmentier (Po-taj Par-mon-tee-ay), a wonderfully simple leek and potato soup that filled up all those adolescent tummies and was cheap and easy to prepare.
Literally, the hardest part of this recipe is making sure you have all the sand rinsed out of the leeks.

I learned a great tip for doing that from my hero, Jacques Pepin; after removing the tough, dark green leaves, slit the leek from halfway up the root end to the tip with a sharp knife, cutting it nearly in half. Repeat the slit to cut the leek nearly in quarters, then run it under freely running water - all the sand will rinse out.

All you do then is pare and slice a pound of potatoes, chop up the white and light green parts of a pound of washed leeks, add 8 cups of water and a tablespoon of salt and simmer the whole thing for about 40-50 minutes, then blend in a blender. The French would probably use a food mill so as not to make the soup quite so smooth but I don't have one so tant pis (too bad!) !

Stir in a little cream before serving, if you like a richer soup, and sprinkle the top with chopped chives, green onion or parsley and a grating of pepper, and voila! you have lunch or a great starter soup for your next dinner party.

Whenever I sip this soup, I am 15 years old again, living on the French Riviera and plotting how to sneak out of school at night to meet Andre.



15 Comments:

Blogger Dagny said...

Thank you for that leek cleaning tip as I have to do so this evening.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007  
Anonymous Mrs. L said...

It was National Vichyssoise Day last Sunday so I made something like this for our dinner (from the Ratatouille cookbook). I'll have to post it sometime soon. I can't do any sort of math much less in French!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007  
Blogger peter said...

I just made a version of this for Thursday- but with celery root as well. Rather than go the rustic root, though, I pushed it through a tamis after blending so it's super-velvety.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007  
Blogger cookiecrumb said...

Fantastique!

(Aw, Peter. The "rustic root." You threw me there for a minute.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007  
Blogger Anna Haight said...

This brings me back to school days too, in Paris where I lived in a walk-up and had breakfast & dinner as part of the rent. The chef made the most heavenly soups! This looks very much like something he would serve.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007  
Blogger Mouse said...

There you go...
In Brittany leeks are ever-present in the shops, in fact, they're the most abundant veggie in the shops, after lusciously leafy-topped celery and the humble pomme de terre and so we inhabitants of this fine land know 1001 things to do with a leek, the last one being stick it in a soup....

Wednesday, November 21, 2007  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Dagny, you're welcome! Always like to spread a good tip around.

Mrs. I, where did you find a proclamation for National Vichyssoise Day??? I love it!

Peter, you always trump - you're a true gourmet.

Cookiecrumb, Oui, c'est vrai!

Anna, sounds like the perfect Paris flat - rent includes meals!

Mouse, we can get them year 'round here, too, but fall and winter seems like the best time for the soup. Also love them with chicken!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007  
Anonymous Mrs. L said...

Zoomie, there are a bunch of websites that list food "days". Try searching for "food holidays" and you should find some.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Mrs. I, thank you, I'll look!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007  
Anonymous Pym said...

Hello, Zoomie. I was only 14 when I attended Cour Maintenon from 1965-66. I remember everything you mentioned, vividly! If you were in Cannes that year, did I know you? Please e-mail me at pymmumford@yahoo.com. I remember the wonderful salads there, too, often with a snail (live) or occasionally some dirt in them. But the flavor was great and the lettuce buttery. Do you remember the "cheval-burgers"? Did you have Mme. Gogois or Mlle. Vermersch? Please write! Thanks. Pym

Friday, October 10, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was googling Cours Maintenon and found your receipe. I attended 62-63 with all the experiences mentioned - learned to love food living in France. I was a day student so had the opportunity to skip school and attend some screenings at thefilm festival. Would love to hear more about food you have incorporated into your repetoire. I still love the betreave (SP?) salade.

Saturday, April 11, 2009  
Blogger Mijou said...

I spent 9 years as a boarder at the Cours Maintenon and I have lovely memories of it such fun to come across this recipe ! thank you you made my day !!
mijou

Thursday, May 28, 2009  
Blogger Bonnie said...

I was at Cours Maintenon in 1962/63. I remember the wonderful teatime at 4 pm before we went to study hall. Dipping our chocolate in the tea (which was boiled in a kettle)and putting it on the freshly baked bread. Our main meal was in the afternoon and after study hall we had those lovely potages.
Thanks for the recipe!

Monday, December 07, 2009  
Anonymous mijou said...

Je recherche des anciennes eleves du Cours Maintenon if you have any relevant anecdotes or photos to share ...would be great !http://coursmaintenoncannes.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, December 22, 2009  
Blogger petra jeannette said...

this brings me back to schooldays in Cours Maintenon! I´v been there in 1971/72 - just for 2 years, but I had a great time! I still remember some of the teachers - like Mme and her son M. Gaugois - yes, I allso remember a little store downstairs where we were buying sweets !

Thursday, May 05, 2011  

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