OMG – it’s Valentine’s Day! And you forgot?!! Okay, so don’t panic. How about making dinner for your loved one/friend/spouse/parent... whoever? Yeah, sure,... ok... dinner. What’s fast and easy but special? Steak? Right, steak. Get a couple of those little filet mignons and grill or broil them. That’s easy enough. Then... let’s see, ... salad. Yup. Just the thing – salad. Some nice lettuce, maybe a sprig or two of watercress, and a simple oil and vinegar dressing. Hmmm... but what’s going to make this dinner special?
Ah... So you turned to the Kitchen Goddess for help? Good thinking, because I have just the dish: Wild Mushroom Soup with Madeira. It comes from one of my old stand-by sources, The New Basics Cookbook from the Silver Palate ladies, Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.
You will love this soup. The flavor is outstanding – nutty, earthy – the texture velvety, and the aroma will remind you of an early morning walk in the woods when the trees haven’t leafed out but the birds have arrived.
It’s a rich taste, but without cream, so not high calorie. Yes, there’s butter, but not so much. And it takes only about an hour to cook, if you start the mushrooms to soak first, then chop the onion and leeks, and quarter the criminis while the mushrooms are absorbing the wine.
In fact, the only real downside to this soup is the cost. Yes, you read this photo right: the dried morels at my grocer are $300 per pound. But you only need one ounce, which is less than $20. And if you’re cooking for two, you can halve this recipe and it’ll only cost $10 for the fungi. But they are soooo worth it. And after all, it’s Valentine’s Day!
A couple of short notes about the ingredients. (You didn’t think the Kitchen Goddess would be able to skip this part, did you?) Morels are pricey in part because the flavor is so distinct and intense, but also because no one has yet figured out a way to cultivate them commercially. They come out as the snow melts, and they’re not easy to spot. Morel fans have been known to travel hundreds of miles in the hunt.
And morels are famously paired with Madeira in cooking. Madeira – named for the Madeira Islands, where it’s made, off the coast of Portugal – is a fortified wine produced in a range of dry to sweet styles. The unique process involves repeatedly heating the wine, which gives it a mix of flavors including notes of roasted nuts, stewed fruit, caramel, and toffee.
This is a soup fit for a queen or a king, ... or a Valentine!
Wild Mushroom Soup with MadeiraAdapted from The New Basics Cookbook, by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.
½ cup medium-dry Madeira
2¾ cups good vegetable stock (can substitute good chicken stock)
1 ounce dried morel mushrooms (substitutes: dried shiitakes or dried chanterelles)
3 leeks (white part only), well rinsed
1 medium onion
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (bleached or unbleached)
2¼ cups good beef stock
1 pound crimini mushrooms (or white button mushrooms) with stems trimmed, quartered
kosher salt and white pepper to taste
Garnishes: crème fraîche, snipped fresh chives or sautéed sliced mushrooms
In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the morels, the Madeira, and ½ cup of the vegetable stock, and bring the mixture to a boil. Immediately remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let sit for 30 minutes. (If it sits for longer than 30 minutes, that’s ok.)
Add the remaining 2¼ cups of vegetable stock slowly, while stirring with a whisk to avoid lumps. Stir in the beef stock and the quartered crimini mushrooms. Add the morels and their soaking liquid to the pot, and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. Season the broth to taste with salt and white pepper.
Let the soup cool a little before transferring it to a blender and purée for at least a minute to make sure the soup is smooth. Depending on the size of your blender or food processor, you may need to do this in batches.
Serve hot, with a dollop of crème fraîche and either fresh chives or sautéed sliced mushrooms.