It is winter in New York. And while this year has been a much milder winter season than in recent years, it's still February. It's still cold in spells and we're all still starved for sun, birds chirping, and the sun setting after 6 pm. Personally, I was really looking forward to a fantastic 2016...and then promptly got sick on January 1st. And again on January 31st. So, I've had a lot of "down time," as it were, to ponder life, and what to eat. I've had plenty of cozy hours indoors, as a sick couch potato and a binge-watcher and a reader and a daydreamer, and in all of this time, I've been making a lot of soups. This is nothing new for me for the early part of the year, and soups are a very healthy way to warm the bones and fill up with a great bowl of healthy tasty stuff. I've made some of the usuals in my repertoire: Tuscan white bean and kale soup, butternut squash puree, Asian beef broth with noodles and veggies, and of course Jewish penicillin a.k.a. matzo ball soup. But while I was between cold and flu, in mid-January, I had a partial Roman posse over for a dinner party -- they were my ladies who were in from Rome and Boston and Rhode Island and some from the NY metro area, and I of course wanted to feed them well.
After appetizers and stuzzichini and prosecco in the living room, we started in on the meal with a creamy pureed mushroom soup. This was inspired by an amazing version my friend Jessica ordered in Santiago, Chile, at a very spiffy restaurant called Puerto Fuy (see http://bluaubergine.blogspot.com/2015/01/escapes-santiago-chile.html). It was the essence of mushroom earthiness, but it was also somehow light as air. I wanted to recreate that, not only because it was so delicious, but also because my friend Jessica was in attendance at my dinner party, and it had been pretty much exactly two years since we'd eaten that sublime soup. Also, Jessica declares that she is "over chewing" -- and as a result, she tends to puree everything she possibly can. She appreciated my efforts on behalf of her jaw! But really, I was incorporating two of the healthiest, anti-carcinogenic foods (mushrooms and onions) together in one dish. The recipe is simple because I wanted the soup to be a distilled essence. I wanted to taste the variety of mushrooms that went into the soup, and little else. So that's how I made it. I topped it off with fresh thyme and a gastrique of blackberries and balsamic, inspired by the Italian idea of "frutti del bosco" -- literally translated, it's "fruits of the forest," and that's what blackberries and mushrooms are. In Rome, the old lady in my local market square where I sourced porcini and funghi of all kinds sold only two things: mushrooms and berries, in theory, two items that could have been gathered in one trip to the forest. Frutti del bosco. Here they are, and here is my recipe. This is for you, Jess, and for our trip to Chile, and for the old mushroom lady in Campo de Fiori who is no more. Enjoy it on one of these cold winter nights.
ETHEREAL MUSHROOM SOUP
4 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 white onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
2 pints white mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
2 pints mixed Asian mushrooms (shitake, maitake, etc.)
2 pints hen of the woods or oyster mushrooms
4 large portobello mushroom caps
10 cups mushroom stock/vegetable broth (including the water from soaking the dried porcini)
3/4 cup organic heavy cream
sprigs of thyme and rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
- Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, and pour over dried porcini mushrooms in a bowl to soak for at least 10 minutes.
- Wipe mushrooms clean with a damp cloth, cut off stems with dirt attached, and give them all a rough chop so they're all roughly the same size (1/4 - 1/2 inch pieces)
- In a large soup pot, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Toss in the onion and garlic and saute for 60 seconds to soften. Lower the heat slightly and sweat the onion and garlic for another 3 minutes.
- Add the mushrooms, bit by bit, just so there are enough to cover the bottom of the pan. When they cook down a bit, add another bunch to the pot. Continue this way until all of the mushrooms are cooking (and losing water) in the pot. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Remove the soaking porcini from the water with your hands, and ring out the mushrooms so they have as little water content as possible (keep the water!). Chop these and add them to the cooking mushrooms in the pot.
- Strain the mushroom soaking liquid through a mesh strainer lined with a paper towel, to catch any sediment, into a bowl.
- Add the mushroom soaking liquid and mushroom or vegetable stock to the mushrooms in the pot. Allow this to come to a boil, then turn down the heat to low and allow to simmer for 30 minutes, so the flavors meld. You can add a touch of thyme and/or rosemary at this point (but sparingly -- otherwise the herbs tend to taste medicinal).
- Using an immersion blender, puree the mushrooms and stock until smooth. At this point, add the heavy cream and adjust for salt and pepper. Blend again. The soup can be thinned with additional stock if necessary.
Soup can be served with a fresh herb garnish and a blackberry gastrique: simply cook a pint or two of blackberries in a small saucepan with a pinch of salt, a couple of tablespoons of sugar, and 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar. Puree in a blender or food processor when done, and strain through a mesh sieve into a squirt bottle. Simply squeeze a swirl of blackberry gastrique onto the top of the mushroom soup just before serving.