As the days grow chilly, a hearty soup is welcome at any get-together. Soups are easy to make in advance and need nothing more than a wedge of cheese and a loaf of bread, maybe a bowl of olives and a glass of wine. That’s supper, lunch or an afternoon pick-me-up, served in a generous bowl.
For this soup’s inspiration, I turned to the flavors of France’s classic forestière and Italy’s cacciatore — forest or hunter’s stews — where the woodsy earthiness of mushrooms takes center stage. Starting with an excellent broth takes the soup from dull to dramatic. I recommend chicken broth (homemade, if you can) but substituting vegetable broth (and using vegetarian “fish sauce” in place of the Worcestershire) is how the recipe can be easily adapted for non-meat eaters. Omit the cream, and the soup can be vegan.
In each instance, simmering the broth with the stems of the mushrooms not only uses flavor-filled scraps that might otherwise be discarded, but it also infuses the broth with even more mushroomy depth.
I call for cremini mushrooms because they are easy to find in just about any grocery store, although I have often made the recipe with a blend of shiitake, oyster and/or morel mushrooms exchanged or swapped in, ounce for ounce. If you are a forager or know one, chanterelles or hen-of-the-woods mushrooms make the soup spectacularly rich-tasting. Of course, be cautious when foraging and work with someone knowledgeable before eating any truly wild fungi.
What sets this soup apart is umami; here, it is built with layers of care. Deeply browning the mushrooms, melting shallots with butter and garlic and caramelizing tomato paste to concentrate its flavor make it all happen. Those elements, combined with the enriched broth, fashion a soup that is complex — and filling to boot.
Make the broth, pan roast the mushrooms, swirl in some cream — dinner is ready. Whir the same soup in a blender for a velvety texture and call it bisque, an elegant soup that is easy to transport to your next potluck. Garnish portions with a few mushrooms, a dollop of sour cream, a buttery crouton or a scattering of chives.
As a bisque, the soup is as smooth as silk. I serve it as an appetite tantalizer for big feasts like Thanksgiving, offering a sipping cup’s worth when guests arrive. It’s a generous welcome that promises more good food ahead.
Barrow is a Washington cookbook author. She’ll join Wednesday’s Free Range chat at noon: live.washingtonpost.com.
8 servings (makes 6 cups)
MAKE AHEAD: The soup can be refrigerated (without the cream) up to 3 days in advance. Reheat gently, and stir in the cream just before serving.
From Bring It! columnist Cathy Barrow.
1 pound cremini mushrooms, caps thinly sliced and stems removed and reserved (see headnote)
½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms
4 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, or more as needed
½ cup chopped shallot
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
½ teaspoon chopped rosemary leaves
¼ cup dry sherry (may substitute dry vermouth or unsweetened apple cider)
¾ teaspoon kosher salt, or more as needed
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed
½ cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons chopped chives
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Combine the cremini mushroom stems, the dried porcini and the stock in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Once small bubbles begin to form at the edges of the liquid, cover, reduce the heat medium-low and cook for 30 minutes.
Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer set over a large heatproof pitcher or liquid cup measure, discarding the solids. Let cool undisturbed, during which time some sediment will fall to the bottom.
Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a wide, heavy skillet over high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the sliced creminis in a single layer; it may be necessary to cook the mushrooms in two batches, adding an extra tablespoon of oil. Reduce the heat to medium-high; cook undisturbed for about 8 minutes, until they are nicely browned and release from the pan without sticking. Turn them over; cook on the second side for 6 to 8 minutes until they are just as browned. Transfer to a bowl.
Pour the remaining tablespoon of oil into the pan, add the shallots and cook, stirring all the time, over medium heat until wilted and translucent, about 4 minutes, then add the butter and garlic; cook for just 30 seconds, then add the tomato paste, Worcestershire, thyme and rosemary, cooking for 3 or 4 minutes until the tomato paste is fragrant and slightly darker in color.
Return the sliced creminis to the pan and toss to incorporate. Increase the heat to medium-high; pour in the sherry and cook for about 2 minutes, or until the alcohol cooks off. Season with the salt and pepper, then taste; the mixture should taste slightly salty. Remove from the heat; reserve about ½ cup for a garnish.
Gradually pour the mushroom-chicken stock into a large saucepan, being careful to leave any sediment behind. Stir in the remaining cremini mixture; bring to barely a boil over medium heat, then remove from the heat and stir in the cream.
If you are blending the soup, remove the center knob in the lid of the blender so steam can escape. Place a paper towel over the opening. Puree in batches, until velvety smooth.
Return all the pureed soup to the pan; warm it through over low heat. Stir in the chives and parsley. Taste, and add more salt and/or pepper, as needed.
Serve in warmed bowls, garnished with the reserved mushroom mixture.
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