Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Mushroom Bisque

Warm the soul and the belly-

Mushroom soup is an excellent choice for an autumn meal

October 11, 2006

Autumn. I love it when the wind begins to hold an edge of chill, while the trees release the first fluttering leaves of the season. I find myself yearning for foods that warm and comfort the soul as much as they do the belly.

Long-cooked roasts are pure pleasure, stews are heartily embraced, and the scent of the smoker is never sweeter than when inhaled on a sweater-tightening clear morning. Inexorably each year, I find myself cruising the market stalls for something a touch more basic. Mushrooms - big, small and still speckled with clumps of dirt, thank you very much.

Mushrooms turn up in my kitchen regularly throughout the year, most typically on pizzas or tucked into fat omelets. But this is the time to kick it down a gear. A leisurely sauté is rife with possibilities: a sauce for grilled meats, a pleasantly earthy addition to lasagna or casseroles, and sometimes, nothing hits the spot like a warm mushroom salad.

While each of these has its rightful place, I look forward to my first batch of mushroom soup with unbridled enthusiasm.

Portobellos are chopped and cooked down in butter, along with a few other essential soup components. After close to an hour of simmering and building flavor, its chop-chop fun
time in the blender. You could stop right there, if you wanted, for a very satisfying soup. Trust in the force, and keep going. After the soup has been pureed, add cream, being certain to thoroughly warm through. Ladle into bowls, garnish with your choice of chives, blue cheese crumbles or crispy chunks of pancetta - or all three! Your efforts will be richly rewarded with a decadent mouthful of creamy, mushroomy love.

Step aside, Campbell's, umami never had it so good!

Portobellos are sold whole, by the cap, or in their "immature" form: you'll see those labeled as baby bellas or crimini/cremini mushrooms. They'll all work in the recipe below.
Select mushrooms that are firm, plump and unblemished. To clean, you can wipe them, but who has that kind of time? I just rinse well and pat dry.

Portobello Mushroom Bisque

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 large yellow onion (about 12 ounces), chopped
3 large portobella mushrooms (about 1 pound), cleaned and chopped
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1 California bay leaf
6 cups homemade chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar (trust me, you want this in there!)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup heavy cream
minced chives, crumbles of blue cheese or crisped chunks of pancetta or bacon

In a heavy-bottomed 6-quart pan, melt the butter. Add leeks and onions, and sauté over medium heat until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Lower the heat, cover the pan and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the mushrooms, stir to combine, cover and cook 10 minutes longer. Raise the heat to medium, stir in the flour and cook for 3 minutes, stirring, until slightly thickened. Add the thyme, bay leaf, stock, salt, sugar and pepper. Simmer, partially covered, for about 10 minutes.
Cool the soup slightly, then discard the bay leaf. Puree the soup with an immersion blender, or in batches in a regular blender. Return the pureed soup to the pan and add the cream. Gently cook until warmed through; be careful to not let the soup boil.
Taste and adjust the seasonings. Ladle into warm bowls, garnish as desired and serve at once.
Girl, a whole cup of cream ... are you serious? OK, perhaps you are more keen on eating this soup as an everyday meal. In that case, you can either just omit the cream, keeping in mind the soup will be thinner. To keep a thick, creamy texture, try substituting a potato for the cream. Dice it up and sauté with the leeks and onion. Proceed with the recipe, simply omitting the cream at the end.

Serves 8 as a first course, 4 as a main.
Adapted from "The Thanksgiving Table" by Diane Morgan

What did Daily Press food freelancer Shelley Rauch mean by "umami"?
Let's find out.

Umami (noun or adjective): A taste sensation that is meaty or savory and is produced by several amino acids and nucleotides (as aspartate, inosinate, and glutamate). The elusive "fifth taste," officially discovered by a Tokyo researcher in 1908, umami has only recently come to light in the Western world. Actual receptors on the tongue confirm that we are designed to experience all that is meaty, savory, earthy - and mushroomy.


Blogger culinary bookworm said...

This is one of my very favorite soups of fall. Lately, instead of chicken stock, I've been using the stems of shitakes and portabellos and making mushroom stock -- it gives an even deeper mushroom flavor and color.

And, a cup of cream in a whole pot of soup really isn't that much per serving, right? (That's what I tell myself anyway!)

7:31 AM  

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