Thursday, February 7, 2013

Valentine Soup
What’s cooking? Mushroom Artichoke Soup

My mother wasn’t much of a cook. She got dinner for us most nights, and it always tasted good, but it wasn’t her thing. She was an artist, much more interested in oil paint than oil from olives. Of course, olive oil in those days was a truly exotic substance that you probably couldn’t even find in many U.S. grocery stores. As I recall, Mom might have had olive oil in the pantry, but I don’t think she used it often.

She grew up in a household that always had help, so no one ever took her aside and said, “Virginia Lee, let me teach you how to roast a chicken.” Like many of us (like me, in fact, as she never took me aside for any cooking lessons either), she learned by trial and error. Then the food industry noticed her plight, and – voilá – convenience foods appeared! TV dinners, Minute Rice, Cheez Whiz, and instant mashed potatoes. To hear her talk, these were gifts from God as much as from Procter & Gamble. Her best friend, Joan, came to visit us one summer at the beach and swore it was the only vacation she’d ever taken when she actually lost weight.

To Mom’s credit, her chicken soup remains a staple of my own kitchen, and she could stir up a mean mess of pinto beans or gumbo. And she yearned to be sophisticated, so my brother and I were introduced early to raw spinach salad, fresh mushrooms, chicken liver pâté, and fresh artichokes. I grew up loving those foods.

White Button Mushrooms
So when I came across a recipe for a mushroom artichoke soup, it struck all sorts of chords in my sensory memory. Never mind that what purported to be a recipe turned out to be missing any sort of flavoring or detailed instructions. Too late – I was already hooked.

I forged ahead, considering the flavors that would marry well with mushrooms and artichokes, and the cooking techniques I already use with both. Though it was more work than I expected, it’ll be easier and less time-consuming for you because you don’t have to think as much as I did.

The result was spectacular. Like a walk in the woods on a damp spring morning, with the sun peeking through the leaves. The rich meatiness of the different mushrooms brought out both sweet and savory tastes, in a broth mildly flavored with the creamy, buttery artichokes. The quartered hearts and sautéed mushrooms became a nice visual accent. A triumph!

A triumph, yes, but an expensive one, as the more exotic mushroom varieties can really run up your tab at the grocery store. Those are the really weird types, too, so be brave – you won’t notice the weirdness once they’re all chopped up together. The Kitchen Goddess recommends one quart of only white button and crimini mushrooms; the second quart can be a mix of whatever else is available at your grocer’s, and when your wallet starts whining, fill in the second quart with more criminis and buttons. Shiitakes tend to be reasonably priced as well. The folks at Whole Foods usually have a decent selection, and a broader variety in your mix of mushrooms will give a more complex flavor to the soup. The photos here cover the range I used.

Alba Mushrooms
This is a great soup for guests or your Valentine – very elegant. My guests raved, as did my Valentine. Serve it with a salad dressed with a light lemon or herbal vinaigrette, and a crusty loaf of French bread.

Mushroom Artichoke Soup

Serves 8.

2 artichokes [Kitchen Goddess shopping note: Look for artichokes with deep green color and a heavy feel. Squeeze the artichoke – the leaves should squeak when you do. Avoid ones whose leaves have split.]
6 cups good quality chicken or vegetable broth, divided
¼ cup dry white wine
1 large bay leaf
juice of ½ lemon
½ teaspoon garlic salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large shallots, minced
2 quarts (64 ounces) fresh mushrooms, in a variety (e.g., those shown here, plus oyster, morel, hen-of-the-woods – whatever looks good)
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 cans organic artichoke hearts, quartered
salt/pepper to taste

For the artichoke broth:
To prepare the artichokes, first remove the small leaves from the base. Cut off the stems and peel away the tough outer layers of the stems. Then, using scissors, trim the thorny leaf tips. Cut the artichokes into quarters, and with a knife or a spoon (a melon baller also works), remove the hairy “choke” at the center of the artichoke.

Black Trumpet Mushrooms
To a large (4-quart) saucepan, add 4 cups of the broth, the wine, bay leaf, lemon juice, and the garlic salt. Stir to combine. Add the artichokes and stems. (Be sure to use a stainless-steel, enameled, or other nonreactive pot when cooking artichokes to prevent discoloration or off flavors.) Bring to a boil, cover, and cook at a low boil for one hour.

For the mushrooms:
Shiitake Mushrooms
Best method for cleaning your mushrooms is to set a colander into a large bowl of water. Put the mushrooms into the colander and swish them around energetically to loosen the dirt, then lift the colander out of the water, leaving behind the debris. Quickly turn the mushrooms out onto tea towels and lightly rub or pat them clean/dry with paper towels or another tea towel. The mushrooms should spend the least possible time in the water.

Set aside about 8 ounces of the best looking button or crimini mushrooms for the garnish. For the rest, trim stem ends and coarsely chop the mushrooms, then – in batches – pulse them in a food processor until not quite finely chopped.

Crimini Mushrooms
In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the butter and the oil. Sauté the shallots until softened, 3-4 minutes. Add the chopped mushrooms and sauté, stirring often, until the mushrooms are softened and the liquid is released, about 20 minutes. Set aside.

For the soup:
When the artichokes are tender, remove them from the broth and reserve the broth. Discard the bay leaf.

French Horn Mushroom
Here’s the laborious part. Remove the leaves from the hearts and, using a fork or spoon, scrape as much of the meat off the leaves as you have the temperament for. Add the meat back into the broth, along with the hearts and the stems. Using a potato masher or a ricer, mash the flesh, and strain the broth and flesh through a fine mesh sieve. Discard the solids. What you’ll have left is a rich, greenish broth with tiny bits of artichoke in it.

Combine the artichoke broth, the mushroom mix, and the remaining 2 cups of vegetable or chicken broth. Add the tarragon and the parsley. Gently stir in the canned, quartered hearts and bring to a simmer. Salt/pepper to taste.

While the soup is coming to a simmer, trim and quarter the mushrooms you set aside for garnish. In a small skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to almost smoking, and sauté the mushrooms until the juices have cooked away and the mushrooms have browned. Stir them into the soup or sprinkle them on top of each serving.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds delicious but I think I'll let you make this foe me.