Celery (Celeriac) Potato Soup with Ham Credit: Sandy Oliver / BDN

Flexibility in any dish is a blessing for a cook. If a dish tastes great whether served hot or room temperature; delicious with meat or without; takes advantage of similarly flavored but different vegetables, all these make it easier for a cook. One can look in the fridge, the garden, a farmer’s market or the produce section of a store and swap around ingredients using ones easily at hand. Grab a flexi-recipe like this one and off you go.

The one thing you have to have to make this soup is boiled potato. It could even be leftovers. Right now, my homegrown potatoes are sprouting in storage. I keep them cold and in the dark, but they know it is spring, and I can use them up or spend time snapping sprouts off to keep them a little longer, or actually, do both.

The recipe calls for leeks, but since they are in the onion family, onions, scallions and leeks all work despite slightly different flavors. I used homegrown onions which are also sprouting, slicing the green tops as if they were scallions, and peeling away the slightly wilted outer layer to get into the firm onion inside. If it were fall, I’d definitely use leeks.

I keep celery in the vegetable drawer all the time because it is so useful in all kinds of dishes. The soil here tends to be sandy and not great for growing celery, which prefers muck. I have grown celeriac, which has a lovely celery flavor and mashes up gorgeously. You can find it in the store and farmer’s market, especially in the fall. As with leeks and onion, celery and celeriac have similar flavors and while purists might be horrified, I treat the two interchangeably.

If you have a ham bone with bits of ham clinging to it, and no vegetarians around, then that’s a slam dunk for boiling for broth and enhancing the soup with bits of meat. Boneless at present, I have lovely sliced smoked ham which I sliced as garnish. If you are serving vegetarians, instead of bone broth, use a roasted vegetable or garlic soup base, or water. If a vegan is at the table, swap the recommended cream or evaporated milk for one of the many plant-based milks that crowd the dairy section.

Considering all these substitutions, one might conclude that a recipe isn’t a formula at all but rather a series of suggestions.

Exactly.

Celery (Celeriac) Potato Soup

Serves 4-6

3 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil

2 leeks or 3 medium onions, thinly sliced

1 bunch of celery, chopped, or 1 pound celeriac, shredded

2-3 medium potatoes, boiled, plus the cooking water

1 ham bone with meat, optional, cooked in water to cover, meat removed

2 cups vegetable broth, water or ham broth

¼ cup parsley stalks, chopped finely

½ cup milk, evaporated milk or cream

Salt and pepper to taste

Put the vegetable oil into a soup pot, add leeks or onions and celery or celeriac, and cook, covered, over a low heat, until soft.

Add the potatoes with their cooking water to the pot and coarsely mash the potatoes.

If you use a ham bone for broth, add the broth and the cooked meat, chopped. Otherwise add a couple of cups of water or vegetable broth.

Add the parsley. Cook all together for about 15 minutes, mashing with a potato masher to your preferred consistency. If you want a cream soup, puree it (using a stick blender. Otherwise remember to let it cool before putting it into a blender.)

Add the half-cup of milk, cream or evaporated milk, increasing the amount if necessary to obtain the desired texture.

Bring soup to a simmer. Adjust flavor with salt or pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with parsley or chives.

Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...