Peasant Mushroom Soup
Friday, May 26th, 2006 - David Farmer
In 2005 the rains did not start till the 9th of June and it was to cold by then for the autumn fungi crop. This year the rains began on the 25th March and it has been non stop ever since. With the intermittent warm days this has lead to a prolific mushroom season.
Pictured are some Agarics, the common field mushroom that were growing in the local Tanunda Park that I collected for a mushroom soup. I like to pick mushrooms that are still pink gilled but you have to be on the spot at the right time as they develop quickly. Mostly a collection will contain a large number that have developed to the black gilled stage.
The older mushrooms have a stronger aroma and flavour. The problem for some is that this will mean the soup is deeper in colour and tending to dark brown or black. A lot of the appeal of food is in the colours and I think we are conditioned to look for a lighter shade, a creamy tan colour in our mushroom soup. A lighter colour is often achieved by adding cream, butter or even a flour paste none of which I wish to add.
The way I make mushroom soup deviates substantially from standard recipes. Sweat down a quantity of well chopped onions and a few chopped garlic cloves in olive oil. After these have become translucent, about 20 minutes, add the mushrooms. If they are freshly picked and young there is no need to peel the tops. Incidentally you would seldom need to do this with supermarket mushrooms.
If the mushrooms are old or you cannot prepare them right away the tops can resemble parchment and it is these you should peel although you may feel it is not essential.
Sweat the mushrooms on low heat in the olive oil-onion mix with and then add lightly flavoured chicken stock or vegetable stock or a combination. Add freshly chopped parsley, I use quite a lot, plus a swig of white wine. At this stage we are just trying to build up flavour complexity without crowding out or overpowering the fresh mushroom flavour.
While no cooking book mentions it I find that tarragon gives a real lift so add a quantity but less than the parsley. Vary the herbs to your taste.
Cook on low heat until the flavours have been integrated. Remove a few of the mushrooms and chop into small pieces if you like mushroom pieces in the soup. Puree the rest in a blender and add back the chopped mushrooms.
At this point the standard recipes will have sautéed the mushrooms in butter, may have added flour and will at this point add thick cream. Some even add egg yolks. All these are good modifying and thickening agents. They lighten the colour and smooth out the texture. But are they necessary? I no longer use them as they mask the fresh field taste and make the soup to heavy and rich. I want to taste the fresh field mushroom.
I prefer to now season with salt and white pepper and add a small amount, to taste, of the best fino sherry you can afford. A good sherry harmonises without pushing aside the mushroom flavours and turns the soup from delicious into a great delight. Lemon juice can also be added just before serving. This soup will taste good but may look unattractive. For decoration add a teaspoon of thickened sour cream mixed with chopped chives and lightly swirl it before serving.
I must admit this soup is strongly flavoured as I can use up to two kilos of field mushrooms; thus it is a thickly textured 'peasant mushroom soup'.
Version two of Mushroom Soup
Use the elements of the recipe above but use just a few hundred grams of field mushrooms. A little goes a long way with field mushrooms. This will lighten the colour and texture and may be more appealing to your guests. You can also adjust the flavour with a stronger stock and more wine. Adjust the flavour with fino sherry as before and use sour creme or butter milk at the last minute for additional flavouring.
Clear Mushroom Soup
And lastly I would like to draw your attention to a brilliant mushroom soup that I use a lot. This is taken straight from 'The Mushroom Feast' by Jane Grigson although I have modified it just a little.
Cover the base of a saucepan with olive oil, finely diced onion and a small amount of garlic. Cook this very slowly until it goes a light but rich, brown colour. This will take a very long time so be warned. I have found it best to add the garlic well after the onion has begun to colour. This step cannot be rushed.
Next add several cups of water, let's say three, or a weak vegetable stock (such as the flavouring that will build up in the saucepan as you steam vegetables). Add a variety of sliced mushrooms. Next add a mixed half cup of fresh herbs including tarragon, oregano, and parsley. Now add a grating of nutmeg, black pepper and a touch of cayenne. Simmer for awhile so it integrates and just before serving lift the flavours with the addition of a few teaspoons of lemon juice. I omit the lemon juice and use a dash of a top class fino sherry. Sherry and mushrooms is a perfect combination.
This is simple and very good.
The standard reference is the Mushroom Feast. Jane Grigson. The Lyons Press, 1975.