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Sasha's Mushrom Soup


Sasha was my first introduction to that fanatical species, the mushroom hunter. As a child, he hunted for porcini with his family, while vacationing in Lithuania. I went hunting with him a few times on Cape Cod, but never could find a single bolete, even as he snagged bagfuls. Sasha says that the best version of this is made with nothing but porcini (fresh and/or dried), but it's so good just as it is I almost find that hard to believe. Oats will give the soup a heartier more rustic texture. A roux, on the other hand, makes it velvety and smooth. So use oats or roux, but not both. Serves 4-6.


Generous handful dried porcini, about 1 ounce
1 - 1 1/2 pounds fresh mushrooms of any sort, chopped, quartered, or sliced
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Pinch of sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
6-8 cups chicken stock or water
2 medium stalks of celery, chopped into 1/4-inch dice
2 russet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch dice
1 or 2 medium carrots, sliced 1/4-1/2 inch thick
5-6 tablespoons oats (optional)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (optional)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (optional)
Fresh dill, chopped
Sour cream

    1.    Place the dried porcini in a medium, heatproof vessel (narrow and deep works better than wide and shallow). Heat about a quart of water to nearly boiling and pour over the dried porcini-you may have to weight them down with another bowl or large spoon, if they float. Let soak about 30 minutes. Lift the porcini out of the liquid, chop them finely, and add them to the other chopped, fresh mushrooms.  Set them aside.  Then strain the porcini liquid through a very fine strainer (there may be abundant grit) set over a large bowl or large measuring cup; set that aside as well.

    2.    In a heavy-bottomed stockpot, saute the onion in oil over very low heat, stirring occasionally so the pieces don't char.  They will soften and, after 15 minutes, develop some gilding on the edges.  When the edges are heavily gilded and turning brown but not black, add the mushrooms and increase the heat to high.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are reduced by half, adding a bit of the porcini liquid as necessary to precent them from sticking to the bottom.  Add a pinch of sugar, and salt and pepper to taste.

    3.    Add the remaining porcini liquid to the pot.  Simmer gently for 25-30 minutes. Add the chicken stock or water, the celery, the potatoes, and the carrots.  Return to a gentle simmer and cook for 30-40 minutes, until the potatoes and carrots are tender.  if using oats, add them 15 minutes before the end.

    4.    To thicken the soup (optional but oh so delicious), use a roux toward the end of the simmer:  Over low heat, melt the butter in a small, heavy saucepan.  When the foam has fully subsided, which in the flour quickly.  Stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or heat-resistant spatula, cook the resulting paste until it's a medium taupe color, like the skin of an Idaho potato.  Ladle in some of the simmering broth from the soup, whisking constantly until the roux achieves a gravy-like consistency.  Scrape the gravy carefully back into the soup and simmer, whisking, till uniformly dispersed.

    5.    Serve hot, with fresh dill and sour cream on the side for adding to taste.


Reprinted with permission of Lyons Press from A Spoonful of Promises by T. Susan Chang.  



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