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Autumn in Italy! This is season of the grape harvests for wine, of “zucca.” or pumpkins and winter squashes, of sweet chestnuts, and of mushrooms and truffles. In October, you can smell the sweet, fragrant chestnut trees and you can pick beautiful brown chestnuts up from the wide tree-lined path as you stroll the rampart of the old wall that surrounds Lucca in Tuscany. In October-November, in Central Italy–Umbria, Lazio, Marche, Tuscany–the hunt is on for mushrooms, “funghi,” of many varieties. Imperial mushrooms, chanterelles, morels, oyster mushrooms. and a variety of white mushroom that has more flavor than the white button, which is the most common type that we find in our American supermarkets. This is the time for the porcino, that much-loved, delicately earthy-flavored mushroom that begins appearing in pasta dishes, risotto, in soups. We often find porcini dried in packets, and they are very flavorful when reconstituted. Then, there are the exquisite, other-worldly white and black truffles, hunted out by dogs or pigs, with certain regions and towns renowned for their truffles, such as Norcia in Umbria for “tartufo,” or truffle.
My introduction to mushrooms was by my Italian-American father, who loved to sauté then in butter, sprinkle in fresh parsley and then top a inexpensive cut of steak to feed our family of five children. Thanksgiving Day Capon, which is preferred to Turkey by Italians, appeared stuffed with dad’s Italian sausage stuffing, which contained chopped mushrooms. We were a working class family, so there were no expensive morels, porcinis, no truffles! My introductions to the world’s variety of mushrooms and the flavor of truffles came as my husband and I travelled the regions of France and Italy, and returned home to search for markets to source mushroom varieties beyond the white button and portabellas.
However, so many varieties remain out of reach price-wise for so many people, and prepared properly, the common white button mushroom can pack a lot of great earthy flavor. When I decided to test some mushroom soup recipes, I decided that while I might splurge for a small package of porcini, I would otherwise limit my selection of mushrooms to white button and baby portabellas for the sake of economy. I also decided that, given the amount of cream, butter and animal fat that goes into Thanksgiving Day dinner, that I would try a mushroom soup that was not made with heavy cream. I came upon a recipe by Jamie Oliver, The Real mushroom Soup retrieved from jamieoliver.com today.
This soup is a darker, deeper, richer mushroom soup that uses reconstituted dried porcini mushrooms and their soaking liquid, red onion, garlic, thyme, parsley, lemon zest and stock, with a small addition of mascarpone to intensify the earthy flavor. When plated, it is served with a drizzle of truffle oil and a squirt of fresh lemon juice. This is an amazing soup!
Two cook’s tips: It is good to have a digital scale for cooking and baking. This recipe called for 600 grams of mushrooms. I selected a bowl, placed it on the scale, zeroed out its weight, and added mushrooms until I had 600 grams. Second tip is to simply brush off mushrooms with a mushroom brush to clean. As an alternative, you can wipe them with a damp paper towel, changing the towel as needed. Do not peel or wash them in water.
- 1 ounce dried porcini
- 3 Tablespoons olive oil
- 600 grams mushrooms total (I used half white button, half baby bellas, all sliced, but you can use any combination that you like)
- 2 cloves garlic thinly sliced
- 1 red onion, finely diced
- 1 handful fresh thyme leaves or 2 Tablespoons dried thyme leaves
- sea salt
- freshly ground pepper
- 1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 handful (bunch) fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 heaping soup spoon mascarpone cheese
- zest of one lemon and juice of ½ lemon
- Truffle oil (I used Kalamazoo Olive Company White Truffle Oil)
- Soak the porcini in 1 cup boiling water, just enough to cover the porcini, and leave to soak.
- Heat a 5 quart soup pot and add 3 Tablespoons of oil to start.
- Add the sliced mushrooms and stir, cooking over medium high heat for just a few minutes, until the mushrooms give off their liquid.
- Add the diced onion and the garlic and stir.
- Add salt, pepper, thyme.
- Add the porcini, half of it chopped and half left in whole slices.
- Strain the porcini soaking liquid and add to the pot, along with a ½ cup dry sherry or marsala, my touch.
- Cook for 20 minutes, or until most of the moisture has evaporated.
- Add the stock, and cook for 20 minutes more.
- Use your immersion blender to puree the soup, leaving some large slices of mushrooms and small bits of mushrooms.
- Add the parsley and lemon zest.
- Add the mascarpone and stir well.
Serves 6 first course servings
I added just 1 Tablespoon very cold butter and stirred it into the soup to give it a glossy appearance.
Take a look at Jamie’s plating suggestions. I think that a grilled small slice of baguette, topped with browned mushrooms and parsley would make a great garnish. I used a shallow bowl, and I drizzled a bit of lemon juice into the center of the bowl, as he suggested, and I drizzled the soup with white truffle oil.
This is not a cream of mushroom soup. This is light but rich, earthy, with decadent flavor from the porcinis, the Marsala and the truffle oil. The parsley and thyme complement mushrooms so well! The lemon zest and juice just add a spark, brightness–not too much acid or citrus flavor. This is a luxurious soup, yet light and perfect for an Autumnal first course, or as a meatless meal, accompanied by a mixed green salad, crusty bread and some good cheese! Perhaps a glass of Pinot Noir!
Readers, I would love to hear about your favorite mushrooms and mushrooms dishes; and, do you think truffle oil is worth the price? Please use the Comments box below.