Winter Solstice Mushroom Soup

Every winter solstice, I am drawn to dark looking foods. One year it was squid ink pasta, followed by an eggplant dish. Sometimes, we have a pint of Guinness. On one particular occasion, an old friend, Brian, arrived dressed for the occasion, his cheeks smeared with charcoal, a crooked stick in hand, and wandered around my kitchen muttering Celtic chants. He then placed a wooden box of dried oak leaves on the table, a box of spells perhaps.

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Crema di funghi e porcini

This year’s Solstice offering is a traditional mushroom soup. I only make this soup when my favourite green grocery sells discounted bags of mushrooms that have dark gills. White coloured mushrooms are rather insipid in flavour. I have add a handful of dried porcini to boost the taste of the dark woods.

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Cream of mushroom and porcini soup.

First make a good rich vegetable stock. The smaller you cut the vegetables in a veggie stock, the more they will sweat off flavour. Also use the mushroom stems in your stock.

Crema di funghi e porcini,  Cream of mushroom and porcini soup

  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 50g of butter
  • 1 potato, diced
  • 500g sliced mushrooms, preferably with darker gills.
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 15 g dried porcini mushrooms
  • a handful of fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 cup of cream, or more
  • 1 tablespoon or more, dry sherry
  • some sour cream or crème fraîche to serve
  • black pepper and salt
  • finely chopped parsley to serve
  1. Soak the porcini mushrooms in some of the hot stock. Leave for 20 minutes, then remove porcini and strain the liquid through a muslin cloth. Save the soaking liquid.
  2. Add butter to a heavy based saucepan or soup pot, add the onions and cook gently until softened but not coloured. Add the garlic and toss through briefly, then add the sliced mushrooms and chopped porcini. Toss around for a few minutes until the mushrooms wilt and reduce, then add the diced potato, thyme, stock and reserved porcini liquid.
  3. Simmer gently for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are soft, then blend with a stick blender until very smooth. Add the cream, warm through, then add freshly ground pepper, a little salt, and the sherry. Taste and check for seasoning and sherry.

Serve with a little crème fraîche or sour cream and parsley and some good bread.

High Hydration Sourdough loaves.
High Hydration Sourdough loaves, mark 3.

Soupe au Pistou in Languedoc- Roussillon, France

A window in the village of St Michelle D'Euzet, Languedoc
A window in the village of St Michel D’Euzet, Languedoc

It was a hot September, more than 30 years ago, in that little village in Languedoc- Roussillon in southern France, where I first made this soup. We had rented a 17th century stone house in the centre St Michel d’Euzet, a tiny rural commune surrounded by acres of vineyards. The town consisted of around 500 residents, a basic épicerie, one bar, a boulangerie, the source of our daily baguette supplies, and a wine co- operative. It was the season of the vendanges or wine harvest: little beaten up orange and red coloured apé trucks would arrive all day at the co-op, loaded with red grapes, ready to be machine crushed into the local cheap wine, the vin de pays that kept the locals ( and us) very happy. The narrow streets were stained magenta as lazy wasps buzzed about in the heat and the heady smell of diesel mixed with grape juice filled the air.

Our 17th century stone house in the village of San Michelle D'Euzet. It became the party house.
Our 17th century stone house in the village of San Michel D’Euzet. It became the party house for travelling Australians.

The old stone house included a generous cave, a mezzanine level with a small kitchen, living room and main bedroom, and an upper level with two tiny bedrooms and a small balcony. Along with our family of five, we squeezed in many other travelling Australians during our month there. They slept in the cave, or ground floor cellar/ bike storage area on a mattress on the floor, or in one of the little rooms on the top story.

San Micheelle in Lan
San Michel in Languedoc

The house faced the place de ville and was opposite the town bar, a meeting place for young and old and popular with the local teenagers. Our kids would spend the late afternoon hours there playing football jeu de machine, with the French kids, on a noisy metal soccer machine table. Sometimes, later in the evening, we would hear young French romeos calling out to Rachael from below, ‘Come down Rachael, I lerv you’ as young lads with heavily accented English would practice their courting skills on our 14-year-old daughter.

Soupe au Pistou
Soupe au Pistou

Cooking for nine or more during that idyllic Autumn was based on fresh supplies gathered twice weekly from the nearby markets at Pont Saint Esprit or Bagnols Sur Ceze. At those markets, the elderly farm women taught me about the Coco Rouge ( fresh borlotti beans) and the Coco Blanc ( fresh white haricot beans), often sold a little rotten as the beans were really ripe and faster to cook. Another local village woman sold me mountains of basil each week. I think we lived on Soupe Au Pistou for a month, along with baguette, jam and brie.

 Soupe Au Pistou, Provençal vegetable Soup with Basil Pesto ( Serves 4)

  • EV Olive oil
  • 2 leeks, washed well, and sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 large potato, peeled and diced.
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

Heat some oil in a heavy based soup pot, then sauté these vegetables until tender, then add,

  • fresh borlotti beans (coco rouge), already shelled and cooked till soft
  • 2 small zucchini, diced
  • chopped autumn tomatoes, such as cherry tomatoes, or a can of diced tomatoes, drained.
  • a hand full of green beans, sliced or fresh white beans, coco blanc, if you can get them.
  • 2 litres of home-made vegetable stock.
  • some small pasta, a couple of small handfuls, of shapes such as digitali ( small macaroni) or broken pasta.

Cook until the pasta is al dente, or around 10 minutes.

Season the soup, then add a tablespoon or so of home-made pesto, and stir it through. Serve soup with a dollop of pesto on top and some shaved parmesan cheese.

soupe
Soupe au pistou
Today's garden pick, April, 18, 2016
Today’s garden pick, April, 18, 2016, inspired this soup. Late tomatoes, leeks, zucchini and basil.

The house photos were taken in 2011 when we returned to San Michel d’Euzet. It hadn’t changed at all.

For Andrew, Rachael, Jack, Sunshine, and Poppy- the kids who had a wild time on bikes exploring the Gard region in 1985.

Turning Japanese. Salmon, Mushroom and Tofu Soup.

When I’m tired, I need fish. Any sort of fish will do, I’m not too fussy. Nor am I willing to ignore farmed salmon, despite some of the bad press it receives. I like to believe that the industry is improving with regard to environmental concerns. The pristine water around the Huon River at Dover and Lake Macquarie, where Australian Tasmanian Atlantic Salmon is farmed, looks as pure as can be. I can’t paint myself into a tight little purist corner when Tasmanian Atlantic salmon is often the only fish option available. Having said that, a little salmon goes a long way.

This little Japanese bowl takes 10 minutes to prepare. The recipe makes two large bowls.

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Japanese broth, salmon, mushroom, tofu

The Marinade and Fish

  • 200 g salmon, skin on, halved lengthwise.
  • 1 tablespoon Japanese soy sauce, Teriyaki or Tamari
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • ½ teaspoon sesame seeds

Put fish fillets in a bowl and cover with the soy sauce and oil. (not the sesame seeds). Leave aside until ready to grill.

The Soup

  • ½ litre or a little more of vegetable stock (or water and 1 vegetable stock cube)
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • ½ tablespoon soy sauce
  • mixed mushrooms, hand separated ( enoki, cloud ear fungus, shiitake)
  • 1 tablespoon Miso paste
  • 100 g silken tofu
  • a large handful of baby spinach leaves

Putting it all together.

Turn on the grill to around 200c fan forced. Cover a baking tray with baking paper, arrange pieces of salmon on the tray and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Grill for around 5 minutes, then turn for 1 minute. Remove from grill.

Meanwhile, in a medium-sized saucepan, heat stock with mirin, soy, and miso on a gentle heat until well amalgamated for around 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms , then add the cubed tofu. Gently heat through to cook.

Flake the cooked fish and bits of juice from the tray into the base of serving bowls. Add the spinach leaves. Pour over the hot soup, sharing the mushroom and tofu pieces evenly.

If you are making this for four, count on around 100 g salmon per person and use a whole packet of silken tofu, then simply double all the other ingredients.

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Slurping goodness

Time for an ear worm or stuck song syndrome for those old enough to remember:

 

Moulin Rouge. Retro Tomato Soup.

Since I’ve been making this soup, the tomato glut is no longer a double-edged sword. Requiring no special tomato peeling and seeding or fine chopping, I can get this soup going quickly and come back later to a bit of arm gymnasium, via the hand cranked Mouli. I have simplified the recipe so that I can remember the balance of ingredients, then whip it up at whim with consistent retro tasting results. Almost every ingredient has the number three in it. This quantity serves 8 – 10 people. Make a big load when you have a tomato glut or meet one in a Farmers Market. It freezes very well.

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Moulin Rouge Tomato Soup

Moulin Rouge Tomato Soup – a retro styled soup, loved by children and elders alike.

  • 3 kilos fresh vine ripened tomatoes. ( I used Rouge de Marmande tomatoes which have a fabulous depth of flavour and give off lots of juice )
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 large onions, chopped
  • 3 small carrots, or around 300 gr, peeled and chopped
  • 3 small celery sticks, chopped
  • 3 or more large cloves garlic ( more is good!)
  • 3 cups vegetable or chicken stock, or use water and a stock cube
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 torn bay leaf
  • 2 teaspoons finely ground pepper, white pepper is best with this soup.
  • 3 tablespoons chopped basil

Choose a large heavy bottomed soup pot. Heat the oil then add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and cook on medium heat, stirring often to soften until the onion turns a  pale golden colour. Add the chopped tomatoes, stir about and let them give off their juices for 5 minutes.  Then add the tomato paste, stirring through, then the stock, bay leaf and salt. Bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer on low with the lid off for 40 minutes of so.

Remove the pot from the heat. Lay a mouli over a bowl so that it sits neatly when the arms are extended. Sit the bowl on a tea towel so that it is stable. Ladle a cup at a time and turn the handle, pressing though as much as you can to extract colour and sweetness from the tomato, carrot and onion residue. You may need to pour off the pureed soup back into a clean and empty soup pot as you go, given the quantity. Don’t attempt to process or blend this soup- the flavour comes from the pressing.

Mouli
The pressing in action

When all the pureed soup is back in the pot, reheat, adding freshly ground pepper and chopped basil.

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Thick, Red and Retro

We like our soup straight, but adding cream gives it a different texture which is comforting on a cooler day.

Moulin Rouge Goes Flash

  • briefly chargrill some sea scallops, halve them and place them in the centre of the soup before serving.
  • serve with fingers of toast spread with tapenade.
  • or with olive oil oven baked crostini, spread with gorgonzola, then briefly grill.

    red fix
    A popular red fix for a big weekend, sometimes known as the Cure.

 

 

Minestra di Verdure Estive/ Summer Vegetable Soup

I like to eat soups in the height of summer, not necessarily cold soups, but light minestre of vegetables in season. They are thrown together and take around 20 minutes to cook, using whatever is abundant in the garden.

Summertime soup
Summertime soup. Keeping photos real with lots of red slurp.

This vegetable soup is similar to the French Soupe au Pistou in many ways, but I am waiting on the garden’s fresh borlotti, i fagioli scritti, and green beans, before I go down that Provençal path.

Ingredients.

  • 1 onion, finely sliced
  • 1 garlic, finely chopped,
  • 2 tablespoons EV olive oil
  • 4-5 chopped Roma tomatoes
  • 1 medium zucchini, finely sliced
  • 1 can of drained and well rinsed chick peas or white cannellini beans
  • ¼ jar of home-made or purchased tomato passata
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • small broken pieces of Mafaldine (flat ribbon) pasta or other dried pasta on hand
  • salt and pepper
  • freshly made pesto from a handful of basil leaves, two cloves garlic, salt, olive oil and pecorino, bashed to a pulp in a mortar and pestle. (Leave the nuts out when serving with soup.)
  • grilled bruschetta to go with the soup.

In a large heavy pot, add a generous slurp of olive oil and gently cook a sliced onion and a chopped garlic until soft but not coloured. Then add the vegetables as listed, stirring each new addition for a minute or so as you go. When they are almost cooked, after around 15 -20 minutes. add the some broken pieces of Mafladine and cook until the pasta is al dente. Season well. Serve in wide bowls with a dollop of freshly made basil pesto.

Paranzo All'aperto.
Pranzo all’aperto. Minestra di verdure estive.

The pasta Mafaldine was named in honour of Princess Mafaldine of Savoy, daughter of King Vittorio Emmanuele 111, and is also known as reginette or “little queens”.