The Chef’s Take: Roasted Pear Vichyssoise from Lincoln’s Jenn Louis
"Food is most flavorful when coaxed with very little," says Jenn Louis, the chef and co-owner of Portland, Oregon’s Lincoln and Sunshine Tavern, as well as Culinary Artistry, a full-service catering business. Louis loves to cook with the seasons and as simply as possible. Nearly everything in her restaurants is made by hand. Her pastas have earned her a reputation as something of an Italian nonna, and in March she’s bringing out a pasta cookbook, Pasta by Hand (Chronicle), focused on the under-loved category of Italian pasta: the dumpling (there’s a lot more going on there than just gnudi).
At Lincoln, a restaurant crafted from reclaimed wood from chicken coops (Sunshine Tavern has free video games and a shuffleboard court; it's all very Portlandia), Louis serves a hyper-seasonal menu that’s dictated by her farmers' harvest. "I love being creative, and I don't like doing the same thing all the time," she says. "We print the menu every day and work with farmers, so we do very ingredient-driven seasonal cuisine. When I get a bunch of chicory, that's what I will use, and I think about what I will do with it to make it awesome." Seasons also dictate how she cooks her food; she favors grilling in summer and braising in winter. Right now that means dishes like pearled barley with fried chicken mushrooms, delicata squash, cicerchie and hazelnuts; butternut and broccoli panzanella with fontina and mustard seed vinaigrette; and a tagine for two of rabbit, pancetta, bulgur, almonds, saffron and yogurt.
Winter is also a great time for soups like this Roasted Pear Vichyssoise, an inventive take on the classic potato-leek soup. It's the perfect addition to your holiday table; it can be made vegetarian by substituting vegetable stock. If you're feeling ambitious, Louis suggests using black garlic to give the vegetable stock a little boost in flavor: Just saute the onion for a bit and throw in a minced black garlic clove. "Health is really important to me, and it doesn't need to be exclusive of really delicious food," she says.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Peel and core pears and cut into medium dice. Place in a bowl and toss with olive oil and sugar. Place seasoned pear onto a baking sheet and roast until tender and caramelized, about 15 minutes.
In a large saucepot, warm olive oil and onions over medium heat. Add onions, garlic and sage, then stir to combine. Cook until onions are translucent, then add potatoes and stock. Bring to a gentle simmer, add roasted pear and cook until potatoes are very tender.
In a blender, puree hot soup in batches until very smooth. Make sure to keep lid of blender slightly ajar so that steam can escape without causing pressure to build. Stir in cider vinegar and salt to taste.
Andrea Strong is a freelance writer whose work has appeared everywhere from The New York Times to Edible Brooklyn. She's probably best known as the creator of The Strong Buzz, her food blog about New York City restaurants. She lives in Queens with her two kids, her husband and her big appetite.