Well folks, it’s officially autumn. I couldn’t be happier, because early autumn is my absolutely favourite, favourite time of year. High summer stone fruits are still around, grapes are everywhere, so too figs and pomegranates. The days are still warmly languid, but there’s a decided crispness to be found on the early morning air. Just perfect.
It’s a time of year when I start contemplating the deliciousness of crumbles, pies and stews. And ingredients like rabbit, oxtail and short rib start winking. But for now my mind is all on mushrooms, because for some reason no other ingredient encapsulates autumn for me quite like these fungi.
I have a chequered history with mushroom soup, my earliest memory of it being in small country hotels invariably called the Royal or Masonic. Places with starched white tablecloths and set menus where dad used to treat us to Sunday lunch. Mushroom soup was followed by fried hake with tartar sauce, then onto leg of lamb with sweet potatoes, rice and potatoes. Because carbs were good back then. And finally old fashioned Ideal milk ice cream with tinned peaches and custard. Pure bliss – except for the mushroom soup. It invariably came out of a packet or, if the place had great culinary pretentions, out of a tin. Thin, grayish beige and totally without flavour, one had to suffer through it to get to the good bits that followed.
Of course this is not how it’s meant to be. No, what you want is something with a bit of body, a creamy texture and loads of deep umami forest-floor flavour. It’s plenty easy to achieve. The key is adding some aromatics like garlic and thyme, a very good stock concentrate and loads and loads of mushrooms.
Folks often ask me what the secret to good cooking is. For me the answer lies in quality ingredients, simplicity and contrast. That’s why I serve this mushroom soup with truffle toasties topped with parmesan shavings and rocket kissed with lemon juice. It’s a lovely crunch and acid contrast to all that rich, creamy ‘mushroominess’. Is that a word? I just made it one.
All you need is…
FOR THE CREAM OF MUSHROOM SOUP
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 tbs butter
1 tbs olive oil
1 tbs minced garlic
750g button mushrooms (or a mix of mushrooms)
2 x 25g chicken-flavour liquid stock concentrate sticks from Woolworths
2 x 25g mushroom-flavour liquid stock concentrate sticks from Woolworths
2 cups water
1 heaped tsp fresh thyme
1 cup cream
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp salt (This salt content is adjusted for the Woolies stock concentrate sticks I used. If you use a different brand, taste first and adjust as needed.)
FOR THE TRUFFLE AND PARMESAN TOASTIES
baguette sliced on the diagonal
truffle-flavoured oil (replace with good olive oil if you need to)
fresh lemon juice
Sweat off the onions over low heat in the butter and olive oil for five minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute or two. Turn up the heat, add the mushrooms and fry for 5 minutes. Next add the water, thyme and stock essence, turn the heat down again, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Liquidise in your food processor or liquidizer until velvety smooth. Place back on the heat, add the cream and black pepper. Taste and add the salt if need be. If it’s too thick for your liking, simply add more water at this stage, but remember to check your seasoning again if you do.
To make the truffle toasties, very lightly brush or spritz the baguette slices on both sides with the truffle oil and pop under the grill to toast until crisp and golden. Top with wild rocket kissed with a bit of lemon juice and shavings of good aged parmesan. Serve right away.