This soup calls for wild mushrooms, which can be purchased fresh or dried at many markets, but nothing matches the experience of finding your own, with the help of an experienced guide if necessary. It also works for most any vegetable you might have around the house. Some of my favorites are brocolli and asparagus, which require little in the way of adaptation. The proportions listed below will yield a hearty meal for at least four people, but you’ll want bread, rolls or biscuits to complete the meal. Plan on spending about 15 minutes to get everything going, then about 45 minutes simmering the soup down to the proper consistency. Refrigerated leftovers are amazingly good. The bottom of each bowl tends to collect chunks of garlic and potatoes, which adds to the heartiness of the finished product. For delicate vegetable flavors like asparagus, it’s a good idea to reserve the tenderest parts of the stems and add them at the end of the cooking process. This recipe lends itself well to experimentation with what’s available, abundant, and cheap in your part of the country, but the basic idea of using potatoes instead of a flour mixture sets it apart. You may also want to try browing the cooked potatoes briefly before mashing, but it’s not necessary.
The basic soup uses well-cooked, partially mashed potatoes as a base, replacing the flour and milk or cream that is part of the standard recipe. The type of potato you use obviously affects how this dish turns out. I like Yellow Finns or Yukon Golds because they seem to give it a richer flavor, but any potato you like will give you a pretty good result.
A half-dozen good-sized potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks,
Mushrooms, at least a pint, but as much as a quart. (Morels, chanterelles, porcinis, black trumpets or hedgehogs all work well. Farm-raised portabellas or criminis will also work, but the magic is in the wild),.
Two quarts water,
One large red or yellow onion,
Two large shallots or four small,
Two sticks celery,
Three cloves garlic,
Two cups vegetable or chicken broth,
Two tablespoons real butter (don’t kid around with margarine),
I cup cream,
Salt and ground black pepper.
Cook the potatoes in a large kettle, using all the water and letting them cook until soft enough to mash. Add at least one teaspoon of salt to the potatoes, more if you prefer a saltier soup.
While the potatoes are boiling, melt a tablespoon of butter in a saucepan, then add the garlic, either as whole cloves or chopped and crushed. Use the flat side of your chef’s knife against the cutting board. Let this cook on very low heat to infuse the butter with garlic flavor.
Chop the onion into small chunks, and begin sauteeing in one tablespoon of butter. Chop the shallots and add them to the onions, stirring well. Then add the celery. Chop the cleaned mushrooms into bite-sized or smaller pieces. This depends on how much you relish the texture of the mushrooms. Continue cooking until the onions and shallots are slightly browned, and the mushrooms look limp. Deglaze with one cup broth, then reduce for 6-8 minutes until most of the broth is gone.
Without removing the potatoes from the kettle, mash them with a hand-held masher or blender. I prefer not to puree them entirely, which leaves a good many chunks floating in the soup. Add the warm garlic/butter infusion directly to the potatoes, then add the onions, shallots, celery and mushrooms. Add one cup broth to the soup, reduce the heat until the water is simmering but not boiling, and allow to cook down until the soup becomes slightly thick when stirring. Always use a wooden spoon when stirring.
The soup is done when it looks too good to keep stirring. Add the cream, which combines with the buttery soup to produce a beautiful golden tone, then salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with lemon wedges and sour cream, along with bread or rolls and butter.
After a long day in the woods, this soup is about as satisfying as anything you can make. It’s inexpensive unless you buy the mushrooms, which typically sell for up to $20 a pound. You’ll need at least half a pound, but the amount will vary according to the intensity of the mushroom flavor. Porcinis are probably the best bet, although I’ve had excellent results with chanterelles, black trumpets, and morels. Dried mushrooms should be reconstituted by soaking in a covered pan of hot water for 30 minutes before the sauteeing step. The liquor left after the mushrooms are removed from the water should be added to the broth.