On a whim, husband and I decided to take a day trip to the mountains last Saturday for some much needed R&R and a romantic picnic. We hadn’t taken a day for just the two of us to get away and relax since, well, you know the story. This was a restoration of the soul!
And though I think the leaves had just peaked, it was a stunning day in the the North Georgia Mountains, and a day filled with contrasts. There was still lots of beautiful color, and our day started off sunny and in the low 60’s with a gentle cool breeze blowing. You’ve seen my posts before on Wolf Mountain Vineyards and Lake Winfield Scott…both located within a 40 mile or so radius of the Dahlonega area of North Georgia. We started off with a stop at Wolf Mountain Vineyards, then headed to Lake Winfield Scott for our picnic, where we had last been on a lazy summer day in early June. Imagine our surprise as a huge and unpredicted cloud came up, the temperature dropped about 15 to 20 degrees, and it started sleeting on us! We ran back to the car, and headed to Frogtown Cellars, another North Georgia vineyard, about 15 miles away. By the time we arrived there it was sunny again and a bit cooler. Such is the Fall climate of the southern Appalachian mountains! Our last stop was in the little town of Dahlonega itself, sweet but a little touristy.
We are blessed to be so close to the mountains that one can do all of this easily in a day trip—even this time of year when the days are shorter—and be back home in the city just in time to enjoy a warming, hearty and rich chowder for dinner to take the chill off.
The chowder was inspired by a soup that my mom served us on our last visit to see her—a creamy cabbage soup. To be honest, cooked cabbage isn’t one of my most favorite things and the idea of a creamed soup with cabbage doesn’t get my juices flowing, so I was a bit skeptical about this soup until I tasted it…and it was absolutely delicious! It featured lovely chunks of ham, cabbage and other vegetables in a rich cream broth. I procured the recipe from Mom and brought it home…and then promptly lost it somewhere in the house! But I could remember the tastes—the cabbage and ham of course, plus thyme and maybe onion, some celery and carrot. I headed for the store, decided that leeks and potatoes would be a good addition and headed home.
This “chowder” is my result. I did later find the recipe for the soup, but am quite pleased with my version which is thicker and even heartier with the added potatoes than the original was, and reminds me of a chowder and hence its name. Thanks for the inspiration, Mom! We’ve decided this is a new favorite and I will be making it again this winter for sure. It freezes well, too, which is always a bonus.
Ham, Potato and Cabbage Chowder
Makes 8 hearty servings
3 small leeks, cleaned and diced, white and light green parts only (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 stalks celery diced, about 1 cup
2 medium carrots peeled and diced, about 1 cup
1 Tablespoon of olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 medium head of green cabbage, trimmed and shredded
2 medium Idaho potatoes (or Yukon gold), cleaned and diced with skins on (about 3 cups)
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3 Tablespoons flour
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk (whole, 2% or lowfat is fine)
1 lb. fully cooked ham, cubed (I used uncured slow cooked), about 3 cups
1 generous Tablespoon fresh chopped thyme leaves
In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the leeks, celery and carrot, 1 teaspoon of the kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Sauté the vegetables until they are just tender, about 5 minutes, then add the chicken broth, cabbage and potato to the pot. Bring the vegetables and stock to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer, cover and cook until the potatoes are done, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
While the vegetables are cooking, melt the 3 tablespoons of butter over low heat in a large saucepan or skillet with deep sides. Add the 3 tablespoons of flour and stir until well blended and no lumps remain, about 1 minute. Slowly add the milk and cream to the butter and flour mixture stirring constantly until well blended, then cook the mixture over low heat until it is thickened. When the potatoes are done in the vegetable mixture, add the thickened cream sauce to the large soup pot and stir to combine. Add the ham, the remaining 1 teaspoon of the kosher salt, black pepper and thyme, and stir well to combine. Allow everything to heat through and meld together, about 3-5 minutes more on low heat, taste and adjust salt and pepper if needed, then serve in bowls, garnishing with additional thyme sprigs, if desired.