I first ate potage when I was studying in Avignon in the fall of 1993. I asked my host mother what the magical green soup was, and she laughed and said it was just potage. It was thick, green, complex, and had some beautiful olive oil floating on top. When I asked why there was olive oil floating on top, she said “it tastes good.”
My host mother and brother encouraged me to use the last scraps of bread to mop up the last of the sauce on my plate; considered gauche in France but we didn’t care. We used the Italian term, “fare la scarpetta.”
One day, the potage was so good, I started doing “la scarpetta” to the last of drops of it, thickly clinging to the bottom of my soup bowl. My host brother, Christophe, who was my European table manners coach, told me wearily that we don’t far’ la scarpetta with the soup course. My most mother Madame di Nicola didn’t miss a beat; without a word she picked up a scrap of bread and told Christophe, “well, we do now!”
Madame di Nicola didn’t share her recipe with me back then; I wasn’t really cooking at the time. But she did tell me it’s an improvised recipe, just steamed or boiled vegetables, flavored with garlic, onion, and herbs, whizzed together in a blender. I remember she told me that some people add potatoes, but one small potato is the maximum. The look on her face told me that people that added more than one small potato were not behaving properly.
Serve potage hot, at the table drizzle the best olive oil on top. Black pepper or parmesan cheese sprinkles are optional. Apparently in northern France they’d top it with cream or butter, but nobody’s perfect.
My recipe is also not a recipe, just some constraints. Yesterday I steamed a bunch of broccoli and celery (enough to fill the blender) and whizzed them in the blender with the steamer water and four cloves of raw garlic. I toasted some cracked black pepper and heated some olive oil in the soup pot. Then I realized I didn’t really want to sauté anything, so I just dumped in some dill and then poured in the minty green soup.
And that’s it; serve it with olive oil.
I recently found out that Madame di Nicola passed away peacefully surrounded by her family. May the joyful memories of her time with us stay with her family and friends, and continue to bring them joy. May she rest in peace.