03 November 2006

Nothing good comes without a price

Chefette has been loving all the autumnal bounty these past few weeks. She has been positively lapping up sweet, nutty Savoy cabbages and rich, golden butternut squash. But topping the fall flavour hit parade have been wild mushrooms.

Check out the beauties pictured above. I bought them at Borough Market last weekend – a mixture of cepes, pieds de mouton, chanterelles, charcoal burners and boletes. They fulfilled their destiny in a wild mushroom soup I did last Sunday, when we hosted a lunch for some of the Husband’s work colleagues and their spouses. A soup that, while delicious, ended up nearly scuppering the whole luncheon …

The soup itself wasn’t too difficult to put together. I started off making 2 types of concentrated mushroom stock. One was nothing more than the strained liquor got from soaking dried cepes in hot water for 20 minutes (after which I drained the cepes and reserved them to one side). The other stock I made by browning 900g of ordinary sliced button mushrooms in a little oil until really, really dark brown, then simmering them in 4 cups of water with some sliced shallots and chopped parsley until all the flavour had been extracted from the browned mushrooms.

Once I had the two stocks made, I sautéed the finely chopped wild mushrooms with some more diced button mushrooms over high heat in batches until nicely browned. Lastly, I sweated off some Spanish onions in olive oil in a soup pot until nicely soft and sweet. At that point, I added in all the chopped sautéed mushrooms, the drained, soaked cepes, the two mushroom stocks, plus some Madeira and seasoning (a herb bouquet of thyme and bay leaves, plus some salt & pepper) and allowed it all to simmer slowly for an hour or so, to let the flavours meld together. I finished the soup by adding a swirl of warm double cream to each bowl, and topping with chopped fresh chives. Then I served them with simple bruschetta (toasted slices of sourdough bread rubbed with a cut piece of garlic and drizzled with olive oil). Mmmmmm.

None of that was really too difficult. But, as we all know, nothing that is truly good in this life comes without a price. And the painful bit of the whole operation was getting all of the mushrooms cleaned.
I don’t just mean the hour+ it took to brush / wipe off all of the excess dirt off the mushrooms. I’m referring to the surge of panic that coursed through my veins when I realised (a) how many little worms of the forest – still alive and wriggling – had made their homes in the tiny wild mushroom crevices; (b) how long it was going to take to get the critters out of my gloriously tasty fungi before the soup could be served to the guests (in the end, it took an additional hour). If it hadn’t been for the heroic efforts of the Husband, drafted in as an emergency commis on de-worming patrol, I never would have got the rest of the lunch out on time!

So the next time you enjoy your lovely wild mushroom soup, sauté or omelette, spare a thought to the hard-working kitchen slave or forager who lovingly cleaned (and de-wormed) them…

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