Fresh porcini mushrooms are a rare sight at my local farmers market, but they are widely available in the fall at Italian farmers markets. Porcini or Boletus edulis have a relatively short season and are very perishable, but luckily dried porcini are easy to find year round. The flavour is more concentrated in the dried mushrooms and they are a whole lot less trouble to deal with than the fresh wild mushrooms. The whole 'unglamorous' truth about wild porcini hunting is detailed here, in case your tempted.
I always try to keep a variety of dried mushrooms in the pantry. As long as I have a handful of dried porcini on hand I know I can whip up something delicious. Reconstituting the mushrooms in warm water produces a flavourful stock, which can be the basis for a pasta sauce, or risotto, or a wonderful earthy soup. There are also about 101 uses for dried porcini powder, made simply by pulverizing the dried mushrooms in coffee grinder (preferably, one dedicated to spices and mushrooms, not used for coffee). Porcini powder often finds it's way into burgers, meatballs, turkey meatloaf, stews, soups, and sauces in my kitchen. It adds an amazing earthiness and depth of flavour whenever I use it.
This recipe uses a combination of fresh cultivated cremini mushrooms and dried porcini, enriched with Madeira and cream. Finish with a few leaves of fresh thyme and a drizzle of truffle oil and you have yourself a true celebration of fungus. I freely admit, I have a deep, and perhaps unnatural, affection for fungus. I love wild mushrooms, I'm a little nuts for truffles, so a bowl of this rich creamy soup is my idea of pure bliss.
To make four small servings, you will need:
- 15 grams dried porcini (a small handful)
- 1 cup warm water
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup shallots, finely chopped
- 2 small cloves garlic, minced
- 500 grams fresh cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 2 cups homemade stock or store-bought low-salt chicken stock
- 1/4 cup half-and half
- 2 tablespoons Madeira
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- salt and freshly ground black pepper - to taste
- Truffle oil
Soak porcini in warm water for 20 minutes or so, until the biggest pieces are softened. Remove the reconstituted porcini from soaking liquid and finely chop. Strain porcini broth through a fine mesh to remove any grit, and reserve. Melt the butter in a stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and cook until they just barely begin to brown, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for another minute, then add the porcini and continue to cook for another minute or two, stirring constantly. Add the cremini mushrooms (reserving 1/4 cup for garnish) and half of the thyme cook for another 4-5 minutes. When the mushrooms begin to release their liquid increase heat a little bit until the mushrooms achieve light a brown colour. Add the porcini liquid and scrape up any browned bits in the pot with your wooden spoon. Bring to a boil over high heat until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the chicken stock and allow the mixture to return to the boil, then reduce heat to medium, cook for another 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool for 10-15 minutes. Transfer the soup to a blender or food processor, and process until smooth. Return the mixture to the pot and add the half-and-half, Madeira, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, reheat the soup gently over low heat. Meanwhile, sautée the reserved cremni mushroom slices in a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat until lightly browned. Garnish each serving with a few sautéed mushrooms and the reserved fresh thyme leaves, finish with a drizzle of truffle oil.