We’ve had some classic Autumn weather this week. Slap-in-your-face cold mornings that slowly give way to brisk yet bright days. The sunlight dapples through the trees, highlighting the changes in leaf colour – from green to yellow to almost red (it’s still a little early yet for the ‘proper’ Autumn shades). This area of Melbourne is blessed with many large, ancient (well I like to think they are) deciduous trees. No, they aren’t native, yet you can’t help but think that if they’re already there why shouldn’t we admire their splendour? Such days call for a bowl of piping hot soup, so warm that it fogs up your glasses (if you so happen to wear them) when you raise the spoon to your lips. Prior to a trip to Edinburgh (in August 2012, to be exact) I avoided mushroom soup like the plague. I mean mushrooms are fantastic, no doubt about it, but mushroom soup? No thank you, mister. That’s taking the dedication a little too far.
After spending a morning wandering around Holyroodhouse Palace (who said traveling was a relaxing lark?) on, yes you guessed it, a beautifully clear, crisp day we ventured towards the city centre in search of a decent feed. We eventually came across a cafe/organic store called Earthy. (If you ever find yourself in Edinburgh, be sure to pay it a visit. You won’t be disappointed.) The soup of the day was, yup, mushroom soup. And hands down it was the Best. Mushroom. Soup. Ever. Yes, that did need capitals and excessive punctuation. That’s how darn good it was. I’m not over exaggerating. Promise. Rich and earthy (huh, just like the name of the cafe), with an exceptional depth of flavour…I was sorely tempted to lick the rustic-style ceramic bowl clean. Served on a wooden board with a chunk (and by a chunk, I do actually mean a chunk) of still warm freshly baked whole-wheat bread and a pat of creamy, salty butter, it was enough to make one weep with joy.
That kind of soup is extremely difficult to replicate. Often the memories of taste and smell are inextricably linked with the experiences of the time – Scotland, history, stunning Autumn-esque days (summer in Scotland can be more akin to Autumn at times). After a number of experiments, this is the closest I’ve come. It’s not exactly the same (unsurprisingly), but it comes pretty close. Admittedly it looks like a sick joke before you whizz it all up in the blender – soggy bits of bread and floating mushroom stalks in a murky brown slurry ain’t exactly appetising. But have a little faith. Soon enough, you’ll have a mighty fine bowl of soup in you’re hands.
Do invest in some decent mushrooms as the remaining ingredients’ll cost you next to nothing (even if you do opt for the spike of sherry, which in all honesty is quite essential). The quality of the mushroom will significantly determine that of the end product – it is the predominant ingredient after all. And more importantly, don’t let the name/concept scare you off. Solid, simple flavours. Superb outcome.
Serves 3 – 4.
1 small brown onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
375g field mushrooms, wiped with a damp paper towel and cut into rough 1 inch pieces, stalks and all
1 sprig rosemary, leaves picked
2 sprigs thyme, leaves picked
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tbsp dry sherry (optional)
2 slices thin white sandwich bread, roughly torn
1 Litre vegetable stock
¼ tsp sea salt
½ tsp black pepper
Chives, finely chopped
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a low heat. Once the butter is foaming, tip in the onion and sweat gently for approximately 3 minutes or until softened but not coloured. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for a minute.
Add the mushrooms, rosemary and thyme. Stir well to coat in butter then cover and cook gently for 10 minutes. Stir halfway through and check that the mushrooms have started to release their juices.
Stir though the nutmeg and pour in the sherry. Allow it to ‘fizzle’ for about thirty seconds then tip in the torn up bread. Stir well and pour in the vegetable stock. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook gently for another 10 minutes.
By now the bread will be nice and mushy and the soup will look revolting. That’s a good thing! Remove the soup from the heat and leave to cool for 15 minutes or so. Tip into a blender, add the salt and pepper (taste and adjust seasoning to your liking) and whizz until smooth.
Transfer the blended soup back to your pot and stir through the milk. Reheat gently.
Serve garnished with finely chopped chives and crusty whole-grain bread or croutons.
Source: Significantly adapted from Sam Stern’s Cooking Up A Storm.