Monday, November 13, 2006

Cream Of Mushroom Soup With Celery Root, Port & Thyme

A few days ago, on a gloriously beautiful Saturday, I bought some organic cremini mushrooms at the Farmers Market thinking they'd be nice sauteed with a chicken breast or something along those lines. Now it's stormy and rainy up here on the North Coast and when I think of what I might make for dinner these days, nothing but warming comfort food will satisfy. Soup! Cream of mushroom soup. The kind I used to make when my kids were little. The recipe I've always used comes from the 1963 edition of The New Good Housekeeping Cookbook . This cookbook belonged to my mother and she gave it to me years ago. As I turned to the well-worn page, I saw with a more critical eye that the recipe, the one that's not out of a can, needed some serious updating. I started by substituting a celery root, or celeriac for the one tablespoon of celery seeds...

Cream of Mushroom Soup with Celery Root (Celeriac), Port & Thyme
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium celeriac or celery root, washed, peeled & coarsely chopped (about 2 cups)
1/2 of a large Mayan or other sweet yellow onion, peeled & coarsely chopped (about 2/3 cup)
1 teaspoon good dried thyme
1/4 cup ruby Port
1 1/4 pounds cremini mushrooms (you could do a mix of wild and domestic if you wish), cleaned & sliced (hold a few caps aside for the garnish)
2 cups good chicken stock

For white sauce:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

3 tablespoons flour
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup 1/2 & 1/2 (or you could 2 cups milk instead of the cream and 1/2 & 1/2)*
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a heavy large skillet, melt the butter over medium low heat.
Add the celeriac and the onions and saute, slowly, until softened.
Add the sliced mushrooms and the thyme and saute a few minutes more until the mushrooms soften.
Add the ruby Port and stir.
Increase the heat to medium high, add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Do not allow to boil. You don't want to evaporate too much liquid.
Meanwhile, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a large-ish soup pot over medium heat.
Add the flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, incorporating all the flour into the melted butter.
This is called a roux.
Cook, taking care to not burn the roux, for 2 minutes more. This will remove any flour-y taste from the roux.
Using a whisk, pour the cream and 1/2 & 1/2 into the roux (or the milk), stirring constantly, thoroughly incorporating the roux into the liquid.
Keeping the heat on medium, stir the white sauce (or bechamel), as it has now become, until it has thickened. Adjust the heat so it does not burn on the bottom. Set aside.

When the mushrooms are cooked, remove the skillet from the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
Place 2 cups of mushroom mixture with stock into a food processor and pulse until the contents are finely ground. Add this to the thickened white sauce and stir. This helps to create a nicely thickened soup.
Add the remaining mushroom mixture and liquid to the soup pot, stirring well.
Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until it is smooth. Or you can leave it chunkier if you wish.
If you don't have an immersion blender, you can put this soup into a food processor, no more than 2 cups at a time, and process to your liking.
Taste and adjust seasonings, adding sea salt and freshly ground black or white pepper if necessary.

Thinly slice the reserved mushroom caps and saute them in a small amount of butter in a skillet until golden brown.
Ladle the soup into warm bowls, top with a small spoonful of creme fraiche, a few of the sauteed mushroom slices and a sprig of fresh thyme.

*Cook's Notes:
Although I don't make a white sauce very often because of the high glycemic properties of white flour, it is usually made with milk. I used cream and 1/2 & 1/2 in this recipe because I had opened cartons of both in the fridge and combined they measured a perfect 2 cups. As you might imagine, it makes the soup really creamy and rich.
The photos in this post are placed randomly, not in a sequential, instructional order.