Friday, May 9, 2008

Potato and Wild Mushroom Soup

This soup has one of the most divine aromas while cooking that anyone could wish for. It's also very tweakable: you can substitute whatever kind of wild mushroom suits you best. (We suggest using wild ones, dry or fresh, rather than the plain cultured field or button mushroom: the flavor will suffer if you use the plainer kind.)

Use the best paprika you can find -- Hungarian, preferably, rather than the cheaper Spanish kind -- and a good smoky bacon.

  • 1 ounce imported dried mushrooms (porcini, ceps, etc. Morels would also work, but if using morels alone, use only 1/2 ounce, as their flavor is strong enough to dominate the soup.)
  • 5 1/2 cups water
  • Salt to taste
  • 6 medium-sized Russet potatoes, peeled and cubed (In Europe, go for a floury potato such as a Rooster or Kerr's Pink, rather than a waxy salad variety like Nicola)
  • 4 slices bacon, finely diced
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup heavy or whipping cream
  • Sweet Hungarian paprika, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Chopped fresh dill for garnish
  • Soak the mushrooms in 1 cup of the water for 2 hours. Drain the mushrooms: strain their soaking water through a coffee filter and reserve.
  • In a large pot, bring the mushrooms, their soaking water, and the remaining water to a boil. Add salt. Reduce to a low heat: cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
  • Add the potatoes. Increase heat to medium low: cook until potatoes are tender, 15-20 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat. With a slotted spoon, remove the mushrooms. When they are cool enough, chop them very fine. (If you started out with chopped dried mushrooms, obviously this step isn't one you have to worry about.)
  • Using the slotted spoon, transfer the potatoes to a food processor. Add a cup of the cooking liquid and puree them. (Or alternately, put them through a food mill, or push them through a sieve with a wooden spoon.)
  • Whisk the potatoes back into the cooking liquid in the pot, whisking very thoroughly until no lumps remain. Reduce the heat under the soup to very low.
  • In a small skillet, sauté the bacon until the fat runs. Drain off all but a tablespoon of the fat: add the onions and mushrooms and sauté slowly, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is well browned. Just before finishing this process, add the paprika. (This takes off the slightly raw edge that the paprika flavor can have if it's not cooked enough.)
  • Turn up the heat under the soup a little. Add the cream and simmer gently for two minutes or so. Do not let the soup boil: you risk the cream "breaking" and curdling. After two minutes, stir in the mushroom, onion and bacon mixture. Season with salt and pepper: simmer for another few minutes.
  • Ladle out into bowls, garnish with the fresh dill, and serve with a good wholegrain or rye bread.

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