Just the mention of "cream of mushroom soup" conjures up so many images of casseroles, "bakes" and other dishes that frequent the pages of magazines like Good Housekeeping and Better Homes and Gardens. My mother, as well as many people's mothers, relied on Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup as a key ingredient in a typical weeknight dinner. And how I hated it. I had a serious aversion to the texture of the mushrooms in this soup, dark, suspicious looking little nubs swimming in the salty and thick, almost gelatinous goop. For many years I avoided any and all mushrooms as a result. Campbell's scarred me. It was only recently, within the past few years or so, that I came to realize that mushrooms could and often do taste better than my childhood memory led me to believe.
A couple summers ago my father had to have surgery and would be required to be in the hospital for several days. I decided I ought to come home and lend moral support to he and my mother. After having spent my entire youth making dinner for me and my father, this time the tables were turned, as I cooked my mom pretty much every meal we ate, in between visits to the hospital. I went to the farmers' market to look for fresh local ingredients. I made us some Black-eyed Pea Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash which I served with a thick ham steak slathered in a mixture of mustard and apricot preserves (a recipe from a Jacques Pepin cookbook mom had). I marinated some big Portobello mushroom caps in balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard and fresh rosemary and grilled them up, tucking them into hearty sandwiches. It seems my hatred of mushrooms was waning. In fact, perhaps the most well-received dish I made was this soup. The recipe sort of comes from Ruth Reichl's second memoir, Comfort Me with Apples. Scattered throughout Ms. Reichl's candid and unapologetic account of her rise in the world of food writing, are recipes that are in some way relevant to particular moments in her life. Many of them are quite simple and easy.
After making the roasted vegetable stock last week, I found myself in the possession of a brown paper bag full of mushroom caps. If you recall, the stock recipe calls for just the stems. "What to do with so many mushrooms?" I wondered. I thought back to this soup and decided to revisit it. This time I used Ms. Reichl's recipe more as an inspiration, adding in fresh sage and rosemary, as well as a generous splash of sherry.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh sage, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 chile de arbol, crumbled
1/2 pound Portobello mushrooms, sliced
1/2 pound Crimini mushrooms, sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup dry sherry
4 cups vegetable or beef stock
1 cup heavy cream
1 Turkish bay leaf
In a deep soup pot, heat the olive oil and butter until it's melted. Add in the onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, stirring to combine and cook for a minute or so. Toss in the thyme, sage, rosemary, chile de arbol, and the sliced mushrooms. Season with the salt and pepper and cook until the mushrooms are soft, about 5 minutes.
Add the sherry and cook until it has been absorbed by the mushrooms, which should take a minute or two.
Sprinkle everything with the flour, stir to combine and cook for another minute or two, to remove the raw flour taste. Some of the flour may stick to the bottom and brown a little. Pour in the stock, cream and tuck in the bay leaf. Stir to combine everything well and to scrape up any of the flour that and browned to the bottom of the pot.
Bring to a gentle simmer (not a rolling boil) and cook for 10 minutes until the soup has thickened.
Ladle half the soup into a blender and puree until smooth.
Pour into a large bowl and then puree the other half of the soup. Return the soup to the pot and then taste and correct the seasonings.
To serve, ladle into bowls (or mugs) drizzle with a tiny bit more cream, grind over some pepper and scatter with parsley or a sprig of one of the herbs used in the soup. I can also imagine that some extra mushrooms, sliced and sauteed in a little butter with some fresh thyme would be nice to spoon over the top. It's great with a slice of country bread that has been brushed with some olive oil and then grilled until charred and crispy.
Now I tend not to be a huge fan of creamy or pureed soups. I'd prefer to see the ingredients and taste their textures, rather than just blitz them beyond recognition in the blender. Having said that, this soup has sort of changed my mind. A beautiful deep beige with dark flecks, the consistency is elegantly velvety and rich, but not excessively so. The aroma and flavor is musky and woodsy. The trio of fresh herbs accentuates the woodsiness of the mushrooms and the chile de arbol imbues it with a subtle heat and depth of flavor. It's refined enough to serve on a holiday or at a dinner party but easy enough to whip up on any old weeknight. Leftovers would be great to have for lunch the next day. Your co-workers will be so jealous.