Earthy. That is the word that came to mind when mushrooms landed on my doorstep, literally as the ash trees were beginning to lay a golden carpet across the lawn after a night’s chilling rain. I spent the day gathering them up in advance of a storm that is gathering on the northern horizon as we speak, one that is said to be bringing the first snow.
A leaf blower is a fascinating thing, sort of a reverse vacuum cleaner. I feel towards collecting leaves much as I do about cleaning house: good enough is good enough. Still, there is a curious satisfaction in gathering up long, serpent-like formations and gracefully moving them across the yard.
All went well until the wind began to move in in advance of the storm. The direction in which I needed to move leaves was directly into the wind, which by the time I said, “Enough!” was beginning to grow some teeth.
It was time to put the blower to bed for another year. Time to light candles. And make some soup.
Kind Katie at Marx foods sent me a precious box containing about a half ounce each of three types of dried mushrooms, among them porcini and black trumpets. Dried mushrooms in the pantry are as good as gold. Maybe better.
A half ounce may not sound like much, but dried mushrooms pack an intense amount of flavor. Just a few added to a pasta sauce will give it a much deeper character. Pre-soak some, drain off the liquid and add it to rice along with the rehydrated mushrooms, and I promise you’ll not see rice the same way again. And then there’s soup.
Marx Foods required that I use at least one type of their mushrooms to create an original soup. But one was not enough. So I used two of them. Three ways. One for the soup, another in some cavatelli that was cooked right in the soup, and the rest in a gremolata to go over the top.
Porcini are the king of wild mushrooms, and true workhorses of many Italian and French (where they are known as cèpes) recipes. Their aroma when dried is fragrantly woodsy, and they rehydrate to a perfect tenderness. Black trumpet mushrooms yield a deeply concentrated aroma when dried that almost has sweet-ish notes. Their dark color and complex flavor when rehydrated have lent them the nickname “poor man’s truffles.” Which is much more evocative than “poor man’s gold.” Well, in culinary circles, at least.
THOROUGHLY MUSHROOMED SOUP
FOR THE CAVATELLI
First make the pasta dough so that it can rest while you start the soup.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 ounce dried black trumpet mushrooms, ground*
1 teaspoon fine sea or kosher salt
1 large egg
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon water (I live in an extremely dry climate and often find that I need more, so if that applies to you, plan to add a tablespoon)
* You want to finely grind the mushrooms, but not to a powder. I use my coffee grinder. To clean the coffee grounds and odor from it, it is often recommended that one use grains of rice. I like to use oatmeal. It does an excellent job of scrubbing the grinder clean of coffee, and absorbs odors like a sponge. Discard the oatmeal when done, and use a dry brush or paper towel to dust out the grinder. Add the dried mushrooms. Pulse to grind them to the consistency of coarsely ground pepper. Afterwards, re-clean the grinder with oatmeal.
I use a mixer to make pasta dough. I made so much of it for so many years before I ever owned a KitchenAid mixer that I feel I’ve paid my dues and am at peace with using a machine. Measure all the pasta ingredients into the mixer bowl. Mix on lowest speed until they begin to form damp-looking clumps, about 2 or 3 minutes.
Stop the mixer and pinch a small handful of dough in you fist. If it holds together when you open your fingers, it is finished.
Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a gently floured surface and knead it into a dough. This should take only a minute or two.
Roll it into a log about 4″ x 2″. Wrap it in plastic and allow to rest a room temperature for 30 minutes.
The rest period permits the proteins (gluten) in the dough to relax after the stress of mixing. This is a good rule to follow, whatever final shape your pasta will have. When you go to roll and shape the dough, you’ll find that it comes right along with you. If you attempt to roll it immediately after mixing it, it will resist and likely tear. So be sure to build the rest period into your timing for dinner.
This may surprise you, but I don’t spend a lot of time watching You Tube. Nonetheless, something told me that I might find a decent pasta-making video, and I did. Watch this one, and you’ll be shaping cavatelli like a pro right away.
I have a gnochi board, but on Helen Rennie’s recommendation, I picked up a sushi mat (for $1.99), and it worked like a charm!
You really can line up several pieces of dough at a time, whereas on a gnochi board you’re pretty much limited to working with one or two.
I only used half of the dough to make the cavatelli for my soup. I securely wrapped the remainder in plastic and tucked it in the freezer for another time.
Once all you cavatelli have been shaped, leave them on your work surface and prepare the gremolata so that its flavor have a chance to blend while the pasta cooks in the soup.
FOR THE SOUP
4 ounces hot tap water
1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
2 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
1 smallish yellow onion, peeled and cut into 1/4″ dice
2 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled, and minced
Pinch of sea or kosher salt
4 ounces fruity white wine ( I used a Riesling)
Liquid drained from soaking the mushrooms
16 ounces chicken stock – your own or a good organic one
Sea or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1. If the dried porcinis are large, break them into small pieces with your fingers. Place them in a bowl and pour the hot water over them. Cover the bowl with a plate to retain the heat. Let them sit for 15 minutes.
2. Warm a soup pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil. When hot (it will shimmer, or “ribbon”), add the onion and a pinch of salt. After about a minute, when the onion has begun to release some of its water, add the garlic. Sweat them until the onion is soft and translucent and the garlic is fragrant.
3. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Let cook until it has been reduced by about half. Add the mushrooms and their liquid and the chicken stock. When adding the mushroom liquid, pour in all but the last bit. You’ll notice a sandy sediment at the very bottom of the bowl; discard it. Bring the soup to a gentle simmer and set a lid on the pot, but leave it cracked about a half inch to concentrate flavors.
When you have finished shaping the cavatelli, add them directly to the soup. As they cook, they will gently thicken the soup to a beautiful, silken consistency. You may need to raise the heat a bit once the pasta has been added. Replace the lid on the pot and cook the pasta for about 12 minutes. Taste one of them to be sure it is cooked through, and not doughy in the center. Continue cooking for a couple of minutes if necessary.
FOR THE GREMOLATA
Gremolata is traditionally a mixture of chopped Italian parsley, garlic, and lemon zest. Here, I’m replacing the garlic with the remaining ground black trumpet mushrooms (because we have enough garlic in our soup, and more, fresh, could overpower the delicate flavors we’ve built up) . The bright, fresh parsley and lemon will add a pop to our soup, while the mushrooms layered in on top deepen the flavor of all.
1 lemon, washed and dried and zested on a Microplane
6 sprigs Italian parsley minced
Remaining ground black trumpet mushrooms
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea or kosher salt (I like French Grey from the Camargue)
Place all ingredients in the bowl of a mortar and pestle. Mull for a minute or so to encourage them to release their flavors and moisten the mushrooms. Set aside while the pasta cooks.
Just before serving the soup, season it to taste with salt and pepper. Divide the soup between 2 bowls. Spoon some of the gremolata over each. Serve with pieces of good, crusty bread.