Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Winter mushroom soup

 It was raining for two days straight. This is when this soup was born. It's dark, heavy body, earthy mushroom and vegetable fragrance, a fire in the fireplace, and a glass of wine - all you need to accept the long cold nights and days that look like early mornings. Now it's nice and sunny again in our unpredictable "sunny California", but I know there will be more rainy days, so here it is.

It looks like a cream soup, but the cream (creme fraiche) is actually just used for serving. The creamy body of the soup comes from root vegetables that are cooked with mushrooms in homemade chicken stock and then pureed. For a vegetarian version, replace chicken stock with vegetable broth.

 The magic of this soup comes from a handful of dried porcini mushrooms. Their smell is comforting and totally irresistible, and is supported by a flavor base of winter vegetables. Make sure to add the liquid that you used to soak the mushrooms - a large part of the mushroom essence is in it.

This recipe makes four large servings of very thick soup, as is appropriate for the season. Or use more stock for a thinner version and serve it in espresso cups as an appetizer for a party.
Mushroom Soup
Serves 4

1 oz dried porcini mushrooms
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 leeks, sliced
2 carrots, chopped
1 parsley root, chopped
1 shallot, sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
8 oz white mushrooms, chopped
1/2 cup dry sherry
1 qt chicken stock
2 medium potatoes, diced
2 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
4 juniper berries, lightly crushed
salt, freshly ground pepper

To serve, optional: creme fraiche, minced parsley, fried shallot.

Cover dried mushrooms with hot water and soak until soft, 15-30 minutes, depending on the quality of the mushrooms. Remove mushrooms, squeeze dry, and chop, reserving the liquid. Strain liquid through a fine mesh strainer.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil and butter in a large saute pan. Add leeks, carrots, parsley root, shallot and garlic. Sweat over medium-low heat until soft but not browning, 10-15 minutes. Add porcini and white mushrooms, cook another 10 minutes. Add mushroom soaking liquid, sherry, chicken stock, thyme, bay leaves, juniper berries, and potatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer gently over low heat for 20 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked.
Remove and discard thyme, bay, and juniper berries. Puree soup in blender to desired texture. I like to leave the soup a little chunky. When pureeing hot soup, work in batches, and hold the lid down firmly with a towel, to make sure that the steam doesn't force the lid off and the hot liquid all over the kitchen and the cook (been there, done this). Pour into a pan and re-heat gently.

Serve in soup bowls, garnished with creme fraiche, parsley, and/or fried shallot.
This soup, served with a large slice of bread, can make a dinner on it's own. Or, here is a comforting second course to match:
Place pork medallions (thick slices of pork tenderloin), crushed bay leaves, sage, thyme sprigs, sliced garlic, salt, pepper, and a little olive oil in a plastic bag. Vacuum seal (I vacuum seal everything these days) or close the bag tightly. Refrigerate overnight. Remove medallions, rub off marinade, and dry with paper towels. Saute in a little olive oil over medium-high heat to medium-well (barely pink in the middle).

Here, served with sauteed Brussels sprouts and baby cauliflower, with my apple butter, and my killer tarragon mustard. The apple butter tames the heat of the mustard a bit, so it doesn't make me cry all the way through the dinner. And I have plenty of this apple butter to last me and everyone around me through the winter.

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