Mushrooms are the enticing bad-boy of the vegetable world. It’s hard to decide if they’re beautiful or ugly, which makes me want to buy them a drink and hear their story. They have all those poisonous cousins, which adds to the intrigue. They walk the line between funk and sophistication. Make them into a luscious soup, and they taste just as complicated and deep as they look.
I had some mushroom kismet. First, a generous friend who hunts mushrooms on misty Oregon mountsides gave us a gorgeous bag of chanterelles. The very next day I was seduced by the sumptuous smell of maitake mushrooms sautéing in butter on a camp stove at the farmer’s market. Free samples. They work. If the universe hasn’t thrown any interesting mushrooms into your path lately, don’t worry. You can buy a few good varieties at most any grocery store. I’m confident this recipe will work with whatever mix of mushrooms you can get your hands on.
Before we get to the recipe, I have a confession. At the risk of ruining my reputation as a lazy, short-cutting, step-skipping cook, I made my own vegetable stock a few weeks ago. Making your own stock is flat fussy. Unless you consider that all you have to do is chop some stuff, sauté, add water, then ignore for an hour. It doesn’t require attention or skill. But it does require forethought, and time. In my book, that’s a lot to ask, but it turns out it”s worth the effort. It”s seriously bumped up the taste of my soups. I’m making my own vegetable stock from here on out.
What compelled me to get off my unfussy can and make stock? Well, it was a post I read on a vegan blog. I know. What are the odds of me reading a vegan blog? I’m a contender for President of the Society for the Advancement of Butter. When I think vegan, I think sawdusty cookies and sanctimony. (Sorry, vegan readers. I base my totally unfair generalization on very limited personal experience. I’m sure you have a wicked sense of humor and a fabulous flair for cooking.) Regardless, this most excellent post made a mighty convincing case for homemade vegetable stock. So convincing that I made some. I used it in a squash soup, which was delectable. I froze the rest for a rainy day. It rained mushrooms. How could I resist?
This soup has a sublime interplay of flavors and scents. There’s the smell of freshly turned soil, and fall leaves, and hay. That’s all in there. And then there’s the way the cream folds itself elegantly around the rest. It’s smooth silk beside the nubby linen of mushrooms. The leeks and garlic? Delicate stitching. And the wine? Help! How do I escape from this tortured sewing analogy? I’ll just move on. The wine tastes exactly like it was born to simmer with mushrooms and leeks. Which it was. ‘Nuf said.
WILD MUSHROOM SOUP
makes four servings
4 tablespoons butter
2 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced into quarter-inch rounds and rinsed well
2 pounds mushrooms, any kind you like, chopped coarsely
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ cup white wine
2 ½ cups vegetable stock
1 cup water
½ cup cream
2 tablespoons sherry
salt and pepper to taste
Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add leeks, and sauté for about five minutes.
Add mushrooms, sprinkle with fresh ground pepper, and sauté until the liquid cooks off and the mushrooms start to brown, about 12 minutes. Hold off salting the vegetables. The stock may be salty enough.
Add thyme and garlic, and sauté for another minute or two. Add wine and simmer for five minutes.
Add vegetable stock and water. (You can use store-bought stock if you’re not inspired to make your own. I”ll never tell.) Reduce heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes.
Puree soup in a blender or food processor until it is very smooth. Return soup to pot over low heat.
Add cream and sherry and stir to blend. Warm soup over low heat until it is warmed through. Do not boil the cream.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with a sprinkling of fresh thyme.