Thursday, February 5, 2009

Soup Night

Monday’s are soup night at my house in the winter. Somehow the simple imperative to make soup every Monday night inspires my creativity. I don’t want to make the same soup twice. Usually, when I start to try to branch out I go to my cookbooks. Well, this week’s recipe, the fresh mushroom soup from Gourmet, sure sounded good, and quite new to me. Only as I chopped and stirred, a strange feeling of déjà vu started to come over me, and as I looked down at the nearly finished product, I had a clear image of the last time I made this soup, only a few weeks ago. So I went back to the pantry, grabbed a fresh pot, and added a whole new series of flavors and textures. I love pretty much everything I cook from Gourmet exactly as it is, but this new concoction is one of the best mushroom soups I’ve ever made. It’s so rich that it might be best in small doses, as an appetizer, but what a treat to eat a whole big bowl.

Cream of Mushroom Soup
½ lb fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 oz dried mushrooms (I like a mix)
2 cups vegetable, chicken, or beef stock
2 cups milk or ½ and ½
1 tsp. salt
2 T butter
2T flour
1 onion
½ bay leaf
½ cup dry sherry

Bring the dried mushrooms, sherry, and ½ cup water to a boil in a small pan. Cover and set aside for about 30 minutes. Scald the milk or ½ and ½ (bring it to a quick boil then turn it off and set it aside). Sauté the mushrooms and onion in the butter for about 10 minutes. Add the flour and stir. Then add the stock, in a slow stream, stirring constantly. Then add the milk, reconstituted mushrooms with liquid, salt, pepper, and bay leaf. Cook on a low heat for about half an hour. Blend using an immersion blender if you have one, or in batches in a standing blender.

This soup, like so many, is best with home-baked bread. About 5 years ago, my mother got me Nancy Silverton’s Breads from the La Brea Bakery. I followed the directions in it to make a starter, which I’ve kept alive, ever developing its flavor, in the back of the fridge ever since. I bake bread a few times a month, two big loaves at a time, so that I always have some on reserve in the freezer. The bread is absolutely delicious. Our friends visiting from France last month said it was like a loaf they’d buy at the boulangerie—that’s about the best compliment I can imagine! I’m just starting to play with the recipes a little, partly because I’m a slow learner but mostly because they’re just so perfect as is.