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January 29, 2008

Dried mushrooms (Recipe: potato and mushroom soup)

Driedmushrooms2

A few Junes ago, Ted was mowing the occasional blades of grass in our lawn.

Along the edge of the woods, underneath the oak trees, he spotted a couple of oddly shaped mushrooms. Are they morels, he wondered?

Oh, yes, they were morels. And the more we looked, the more we found.

Two quarts of morels!

Have I told you that our land was once used by a charcoal maker? He was known as "The Indian," because he was a member of the Narragansett tribe that has its roots here in Rhode Island. (Nobody we know remembers his name.) There are large concrete platforms buried beneath our grass; on those platforms, more than forty years ago, The Indian burned wood into charcoal. A mushroom forager told us that the residual ash in our lawn creates a happy environment for morels.

I noted the date on the calendar, and the following year, with anticipation -- and with recipes in mind -- we hunted and hunted, but didn't find a single morel. The year after that, just a handful. Last year, none.

We should have dried our harvest that first year.

Dried mushrooms I've purchased from farmers and farm stands in France (cepes) and in the Pacific Northwest (mixed morels, chanterelles and porcini) have kept for more than two years in tightly-sealed glass jars in my pantry, with no significant loss of quality.

On the short list of pantry items I’m never without, dried mushrooms, ground to a powder, enrich soups and stews; reconstituted and left whole, they feature in my favorite risotto, as well as beef stew, saffron orzo with shrimp, pasta with goat cheese and mushrooms, and Tuscan meatloaf

Whenever I make vegetable stock, I add dried and fresh wild mushrooms, which contribute the meaty taste we now know as umami -- the fifth taste, along with sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Invaluable in a vegetarian diet as a meat substitute, mushrooms contain protein and all of the essential amino acids, as well as significant amounts of Vitamin D, potassium and phosphorous.

Quality is the key. Buy from a reputable source, preferably from the places known for their mushrooms: France, Italy, Poland, and the Pacific Northwest. Good dried mushrooms aren’t cheap. Don’t buy kibble -- which is, no kidding, what the bits and pieces are called. Your dried mushrooms should look like mushrooms, and you should be able to distinguish one variety from another. Check also for too much "dust" in the bag (a sign of staleness) or tiny wormholes in the mushrooms (a sign of stowaways).

From ancient times, mushrooms have held a place in mythology because of their seemingly magical ability to appear overnight; in many cultures, mushrooms are revered as a symbol of super-human strength, because they can push away stones as they grow upright through the soil.

If you’re in my neighborhood in early June, stop by and check the lawn for super-human morels.

Finders, keepers.

Potato and mushroom soup

Adapted slightly from Sarah Leah Chase's Cold Weather Cooking, one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, this Polish soup is rich and creamy, and can be made vegetarian if you prefer. Serves 10.

Ingredients

1 cup dried porcini or mixed wild mushrooms (not shiitake)
4 cups water
3 leeks, white and light green parts, rinsed, trimmed
1 medium onion
3 ribs celery
1 large carrot, peeled
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 lb white mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp caraway seeds
4 cups beef broth, vegetable broth or water
5 large potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch chunk
4 cups whole milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika

Directions

Place dried mushrooms and 4 cups water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Strain the mushrooms, reserving the cooking liquid. Coarsely chop the mushrooms and set aside.

In a food processor, finely mince the leeks, onion, celery and carrot. Melt the butter in a stockpot over medium-high heat, and add the minced vegetables. Sauté 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, add the fresh and dried mushrooms and caraway seeds. Continue cooking until the vegetables are very tender, 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour the reserved mushroom liquid into a pot, being careful to leave any sediment behind. Add the broth and potatoes. Simmer until the potatoes are tender, 20-25 minutes. Add the potatoes and liquid to the sautéed vegetables, and mash half of the potatoes against the side of the pot with a large spoon to help thicken the soup.

Add the milk to the soup and heat through, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Whisk the sour cream, flour and paprika together in a small bowl until smooth. Stir into the soup pot to blend. Cook the soup a few minutes over low heat, being sure not to let the soup boil, or it will curdle. Serve hot.

[Printer-friendly recipes.]


More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Mushroom paté
Vegetable dumplings (for potstickers or soup)
Mushroom barley soup
Dry rub for beef

Comments

Things are like that, when you aren't looking for them, they start popping up everywhere. When you are looking for them, they went into hiding.

I love mushroom soups. hmm ... add the potato ...delicious.

I´m never without some kind of dried mushroom, either. They´re incredible, quite magical. Almost like your morel harvest!

Hi Lydia,

It must have been very exciting when you gathered two quarts or morels. I still have not tasted morels before...I don't know what they will taste like but I am so sure that I will like it. Perhaps a good grocer somewhere will have some dried ones, but all I see are dried porcini. Maybe I will have to lurk around your neighbourhood in June ;-)

Dried mushrooms are something I always try to have on hand too. I love your idea of ground mushrooms used to enrich a soup or stew, just brilliant! I just got a big jar of mixed varieties from Costco and have been wondering what to use them for first.

Lucky you! Morels are my favorite mushroom they almost taste like steak! And yes definitely the umami taste with dried mushrooms.

I've never dried mushrooms. How do you do this successfully? I sit on a wonderland of chanterelles in the back acre of my house. We cook chanterelles in risotto, in empanadas, in soups, but have never thought of drying the (many) pounds we gather in an afternoon and distribute to friends.

Vive les champignons !

Morels in your backyard! That sounds like a foodie's dream come true. I love dried porcinis in mushroom soup. The flavor is amazing.

That would be quite a find in the back yard! I was surprised to discover ginger growing in my back yard recently...only to have the temperature dip and kill it a week later.

I love dried mushrooms--definitely adds some intense flavor. The soup sounds like it would be delicious.

Hmmm...mushrooms...mushrooms....incidentally, one of my mushroom posts is coming up! They do use dried porcini mushrooms for making soup bases, don't they? I prefer fresh mushrooms to dried ones coz there is much more work involved in soaking dried mushrooms! Woops!

Cooking Ninja, you mean I should stop looking, and they will appear? That's very zen....

Lobstersquad, magical -- that is exactly the word for them.

Nora, morels really do taste like the woods -- not as much as portobello or cremini mushrooms. They are quite lovely; I hope you'll be able to find them.

Kalyn, hooray for Costco once again! I will look for mixed dried mushrooms the next time I'm there.

Veron, morels are very special. Maybe this year I'll have more...

Shira, I've never had much luck drying my own mushrooms. Here's some information, though:
http://vermontmushrooms.com/dry-cult.html

Bea, oui, oui!

Amy, it was really fun to have our own morels, even for one day. We sauteed them with garlic and oil and ate them on toast. Just perfect!

Mike, ginger?! What fun! Now what can we make with mushrooms and ginger?

Tigerfish, I'll watch for your post. I think dried porcini really boosts the flavor of stock, especially vegetable stock which is often so weak. I love combining fresh and dried mushrooms.

The first time I had a fresh morel was in the backcountry of Olympic National Park in WA and it was such an exciting find. Your site is just marvelous with great information. Wish we had discovered you earlier. We'll be back to visit often!

I stumbled upon your blog today for the first time - very nice! I just thought I would put in my two cents about the mushrooms - I used to pick wild mushrooms in British Columbia with my grandfather, and I seem to recall that if you pick them all, you can essentially kill off a mushroom patch. My suggestion would be to leave a few widely-spaced mushies next fall, and hopefully you'll have a better crop the next year. :) Best of luck!

Because I am slightly dorky and a fan of google, I found this site, which may have some good information for you if you would like to encourage your morels: http://mushroomexpert.com/morels/index.html
:)

Here in San Diego, I always keep a large bag of dried shitakes on hand. (Purchased at Costco.) When I lived in New Mexico, my husband and I would go mushroom hunting in the fall. The bonanza year found us driving home with the entire back of our Toyota Land Cruiser FILLED with boletus! (I didn't realize at the time that they were the same as porcinis!) In those days, I was truly living large!

White on Rice Couple, welcome to The Perfect Pantry! So glad to discover your site, too. I was excited when we found our morels -- almost too good to believe.

Meg, welcome!! Thank you so much -- I think this explains why my morels disappeared. And thanks for the link to the mushroom expert site; I'm going to try to bring back my crop this year.

Toni, I can't imagine how amazing it was to have your car filled with mushrooms. Oh, the aroma.... and what did you do with all of them? Some incredibly wonderful meals, I imagine. Did you dry them?

2 quarts of morels? With both description and invitation you just may find a few bloggers foraging your yard come June! What a feast and treat.

I hunt every year for morels, some years are more successful than others. I love them!

You and Ted are so lucky! People risk life and limb searching for morels, and you stumble upon 2 quarts? Maybe you should buy a lottery ticket.

Callipygia, you would be most welcome -- especially if you could do a mushroom dance and bring us an abundant harvest this spring!

Brilynn, I've always wanted to go out in the woods with a forager -- but most are so secretive about their foraging spots.

Susan, in that year that we first found the big haul, I was collecting them in the hem of my shirt. I should have run right to one of the wonderful Providence restaurants and asked them to make something wonderful with all of this bounty. If the mushrooms come back in a big way this year, I think I'll do that.

Sorry to hear your morels haven't returned... here's hoping you get a chance to regain the bounty this year.

For years, the only way I ever had morels was sizzling hot out of the pan where they had been sauted in a tiny bit of butter (who has time for a plate? To me burned fingers are part of the fun... along with trying to get a fair share by bumbing da out of the way!), but in the last few years I have tried to restrain my baser urges and dry some for the year ahead.

Easy way? Ala' Alton Brown. Wipe mushrooms clean (yes, you can even spritz off the dirt with a spray of cold water) and slice in half. Grab the following gear - box fan, furnace filters (clean) and bungee cords. Lay a single layer of mushrooms onto a filter top with another. Bungee cord the sandwich to a box fan. Fan dry for one day.

Perfect every time.

Jenna, welcome to The Perfect Pantry! Great method -- the fanning is the key, I think. My husband will like this method -- very MacGyver, rigging up what you have on hand. Thanks! Now, let's keep our fingers crossed for the return of the morels....

Wow! That picture is gorgeous - I've been meaning to experiment with other sorts of mushrooms (I haven't grown past button and the occasional portobello). This soup sounds fantasssssstic.

Hillary, now you have to start tasting all different kinds of mushrooms, either fresh or reconstituting the dried ones (but fresh is better for your first taste, of course). You'll be amazed at how different the mushrooms can be.

I just discovered your blog today. Thanks for sharing this recipes. I just love morel mushrooms, one of my favorite meals is a bison burger topped with fried morels and swiss cheese.

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  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my log house kitchen in rural northwest Rhode Island, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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