The other night I invited a couple of old and dear friends over for dinner. All of us had left our homes here as young women, just starting out with new marriages and careers. And now, for altogether different reasons, we've all found our ways back to our hometown to live again. It seemed important to me to re-establish the ties that bound us when our families shared Friday night dinners out and holiday picnic breakfasts. Everyone needs a friend who can look into our middle-aged eyes and see the girls we were before . . . well . . . before, whatever has happened to us since then.
I was not sure what to make for dinner, so my husband, who generally does not care what he eats, or so he says, suggested this creamy mushroom soup. I have suspected for quite a while now that he really is more aware of mealtime than he professes -- and now I know! After I recovered from my shock that he actually remembered and savored a delicious flavor from his past, I decided it would be perfect for a light September supper. A recently purchased bottle of Champagne Pear Vinaigrette from Trader Joe's (which I enthusiastically encourage you to try!) inspired a salad of butterhead lettuce and curly endive with sliced and grilled fresh pears, toasted pecans, and crumbled gorgonzola. Hearty La Brea Whole Grain bread rounded out my changing seasons menu -- that and a bit of Ben and Jerry's finest vanilla with fresh raspberries and crumbled Amaretti Cookies. My favorite new wine, Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, seemed a good match to my palate.
Dinner was wonderful and I definitely will make the whole menu again, probably several times through the chilly months ahead. The true joy of the evening though, was sharing our stories and finding old and new things to laugh about. Sometimes, if you're lucky, you can go home again -- and it's good to have a friend there.
WILD AND CREAMY MUSHROOM SOUP
adated from Barefoot Contessa at Home, by Ina Garten
8 oz. fresh shitake mushrooms
8 oz. fresh portobello mushrooms
8 oz. fresh cremini mushrooms
1 tbsp. good olive oil
1 stick (4 oz.) + 1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 c. chopped onion
1 c. chopped carrot
1 sprig fresh thyme + 1 tsp. minced thyme leaves
2 c. good beef broth
4 c. water
freshly ground pepper
2 c. chopped leeks (2-3 leeks white and light green parts)
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. sherry or dry white wine (I like the sherry!)
2 c. half-and-half
1/2 c. fresh Italian parsley, minced
Clean the mushrooms with damp paper towels and/or a soft brush, but do not wash them or they will get soggy. Snap off the mushroom stems and give them a coarse chop. Slice the mushroom caps into 1/4-in. slices, and in half again if the mushrooms are very large. Set the caps aside.
In a large pot, heat olive oil and 1 tbsp. butter and add the chopped mushroom stems, chopped onions, chopped carrots, sprig of thyme, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper; cook on low for about 15 minutes, until the vegetables are softened. Add the beef broth and water, bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat. Simmer the uncovered pot for 30 minutes and remove from heat. After mixture has cooled for 10 minutes, pour through a strainer to remove vegetables; reserve the stock and add water, if needed, to yield 5 cups.
In another large pot, heat 1/4 lb. butter and add sliced leeks. Cook over low heat until leeks begin to turn a golden brown color. Add the mushroom slices and cook for 10 minutes. Add the flour and stir while cooking for 1 minute. Add the sherry (or wine) and stir to loosen mixture from the bottom of the pot. Add the reserved mushroom stock, minced thyme leaves, salt and pepper to taste and bring all to a boil. Reduce the heat and continue to simmer for 15 minutes. Finally, add the half-and-half, and parsley and continue to cook until soup is warmed throughout, but do not boil. Soup should be served hot. Serves 6.
Note: This soup is excellent when first made, but is even better the second or third day after preparing. May need to be thinned a little with a bit more half-and-half when reheating. Also makes a wonderful sauce for sautéed chicken or grilled steaks -- good enough for serious company!