Magic Mushrooms, Number 1

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

DB wrinkled up his nose and said,"It looks like mud."  He was right.  Luckily it tasted a whole lot better.  

Last weekend we had the pleasure of a visit from my father-in-law, David.  For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of having house guests is the planning of the menu.  It's an excuse for extravagance in imagination, ingredients and effort, the likes of which we rarely see on a Monday night (picture sausages and mash).   I savour the possibilities for hours, lingering over my cookbooks with the same mixture of fantasy and longing that some women reserve for Vogue.  Or shoes.  But I digress.

At the end of all this planning come the lists - detailed, printed lists of menus, ingredients and sequence of preparation, all tucked safely inside a clear plastic sleeve - the last remaining vestige of my life as a business consultant.  At least it's not in PowerPoint. 

In view of this exhaustive planning, I was caught particularly off-guard and unprepared when I discovered I'd gotten the flight details wrong and that we would, in fact, have company for one last sitting: Sunday lunch.  The Biggie.  

I had planned to wave David good-bye and let the troops fend for themselves, picking at leftovers, preferably straight out of the tupperware so that I wouldn't have to do any washing.  

Clearly a re-think was in order. 

A quick inspection of the nether regions of the fridge produced two enormous, aging portabellos, several tired cloves of garlic, a fistful of thyme and a solitary onion.   In the pantry were powdered chicken stock (I confess) and, cue the trumpets: dried shitake mushrooms.  

Reconstituted shitake mushrooms and, critically, their soaking liquid are so potent that to smell them is like inhaling the forrest floor.  Damp, dark, musty, fungal, they are Autumn in edible form.  One cup would be enough to elevate this lack-luster assembly of ingredients to otherwise unattainable deliciousness.  I hoped.  Desperately.

30 minutes after locating the saving ingredient (it would have been 15, except for the soaking time), an all-Adelaide Hills lunch was served with minimal effort and maximum results:  Mushroom Soup; white sour dough bread with unsalted butter; a cheese plate consisting of Adelaide Hills Blue, Maggie Beer's Spiced Pear Paste, and Woodside Cheese's Edith Goat Cheese; and a glass of Shaw & Smith Sauvignon Blanc.  

Spoons scraped the bottom of the bowls.  Second servings were hastily consumed before a last-possible-moment dash to the airport.  A copy of the recipe was requested.  And only one pot to clean.  Perfect. 

David's Mushroom Soup:

Soak one cup of dried shitake mushrooms in a bowl of boiling water (just enough to cover) for 30 minutes.  

Meanwhile, sautee one diced onion, 3 minced garlic cloves and some thyme in obscene amounts of butter over gentle heat, stirring frequently, till translucent.  Sprinkled with sea salt.  Chop portabellos into 1 x 1 inch cubes, stems, gills and all, and add to the pan mix, along with another knob of butter.  Season with more sea salt and freshly ground white pepper .  (I often find that ground white pepper is better suited to soups than black, as it has a more delicate flavour and texture and is less likely to produce any overbearing grit).  

Snip stems off softened shitakes with scissors and discard.  Slice mushrooms and add to pan.  After a few moments, added reserved soaking water, now a rich, earthy brown, like coffee, and two cups chicken stock, or to desired consistency.  

Bring to the boil.  Simmer.  Puree directly in the pot using hand-held blender.  Ladle into bowls.


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