LEEK, POTATO, AND WATERCRESS SOUP

4 tablespoons grapeseed or other light vegetable oil 4 to 5 leek whites (10 oz.), split, washed, and diced 1 1/2 pounds red bliss or new fingerling potatoes, washed, peeled, and diced 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground white pepper 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seed 1 bay leaf 7 cups unsalted chicken stock or light broth 1 bunch (6 oz.) fresh watercress, stems removed, washed and chopped 6 tablespoons coarse-grated gruyere cheese (optional) Cracked black pepper

In a 3-to-4-quart soup pot, heat the oil and saute the washed and drained leeks until slightly soft.

Add potatoes, and stir to coat well with oil.

Add the salt, white pepper, fennel seed, and bay leaf.

Saute all the ingredients for 4 to 5 minutes, then add the stock. Bring to a boil. Skim any foam and reduce to simmer for 25 to 35 minutes, until potatoes are tender, while stirring occasionally. Remove bay leaf and adjust seasoning.

Optional: For a more refined look, the soup may be pureed smooth at this point in a blender or food processor, but I prefer the slightly rustic effect, especially if served in an elegant terrine or pot.

Moments before serving, add the watercress, bring soup to a boil, and stir to incorporate flavors.

Serve very hot with cracked black pepper and a spoon of grated gruyere atop.

Serves 6 to 8.

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