Cream of Mushroom Soup

I’m back on my mushroom kick again… It’s not the first time, and I assure you it won’t be the last. I just love them, as I’m sure you remember from my Chicken Marsala Pasta post. Of all things mushroom, this soup has to be my favorite. Throughout my childhood and into my teenage years, I requested it often from my dad and grandma.
Obviously, I had to start making it for myself, and since there was never really a recipe, I came up with my own. I get excited when I see the varieties of mushrooms that are available at most grocery stores (food nerd alert!), and this soup can be made with any combination of them. Whatever you choose will be perfect, so get creative. It is rich, creamy, and comforting, but not overly thick as some “cream of” soups can be. Also, some mushroom soup recipes are ridiculously skimpy with their mushroom proportions, and the end result is really disappointing. So, while my amount might seem excessive, I promise it’s worth it. This is serious mushroom soup; I’m not messin’ around.

I still love topping it with my childhood favorite of crumbled saltines or oyster crackers. For something more substantial and dinner time appropriate, I like to serve it with grilled cheeses (for dunking of course!) made with either Fontina or Gruyère cheese (these two cheeses pair really nicely with mushrooms and thyme). No matter what you serve it with, you’ll be happy. It’s the perfect meal on a chilly fall day or night, kind of like a big hug for your tummy. Yum, yum, yum….

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Cream of Mushroom Soup

Ingredients:

  • 48 ounces of mushrooms; any variety and combination, stems removed and reserved, caps sliced (Today I used 16 oz button, 16 oz cremini (baby bella), 8 oz oyster, and 8 oz shiitake)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 8 sprigs fresh thyme (remove leaves from 4 sprigs and finely chop. Reserve the other 4 sprigs for your stock)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup marsala or dry white wine
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • Salt and pepper

To Prepare:

Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a saucepan and add mushroom stems. Cook for a few minutes until stems begin to brown. Add stock, 1 cup of water, and 4 sprigs of thyme. Bring to a boil and let simmer while you prepare the mushrooms.

In a large pot or dutch oven, melt 2 tablespoons butter and add onion and a good pinch of kosher salt. Cook over medium heat until onion softens and begins to brown. Add sliced mushrooms, garlic, chopped thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper. (At this point you might think I’m crazy, but just trust me! The mushrooms cook down quite a lot during the next few steps.) Stir, and cover with a tightly fitting lid for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, stir again, replace lid and cook for another 5 minutes. At this point your mushrooms will be very soft and have quite a bit of liquid. Remove the lid and continue cooking over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Add wine and cook, again,  until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the final tablespoon of butter, once melted add flour and stir for a minute or so until you can’t see the white of the flour anymore and the mushroom mixture becomes thick and pasty.

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Strain the mushroom/chicken stock  directly into the soup pot containing the mushrooms, and cook for 15 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring and scraping the bottom occasionally.

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After 15 minutes you will have a thick, almost gravy-like consistency. Add cream and half and half. Stir to combine and heat through, but make sure not to boil. Taste for salt and pepper, adjusting as needed.

Serve in big bowls with crackers, bread, or grilled cheese on the side.

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Enjoy!

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Chicken Marsala Pasta

I have been food obsessed my entire life, and, as a result, I have lots of little notebooks full of thoughts, recipe ideas, flavor combinations, and doodles. I found one the other day where I had scribbled “Mushrooms+marsala=Love.” It made me laugh and shake my head at myself, but it’s so true. They are such complimentary flavors; they belong together.

Mushrooms are one of those things… I know many people who don’t love them, but I am a long time mushroom lover. I was the weird child who begged my grandmother to make homemade cream of mushroom soup. I grew up within walking distance of a river, and my dad used to take me mushroom hunting along the mossy fern-covered trails that led to it. He even had a little mushroom field guide to make sure we weren’t coming home from our adventures with a bundle of poisonous fungi. I loved it, and I always felt like we were being sneaky and living dangerously…

So last night, I came home and assessed what I had in the fridge. I had three chicken breasts that I pulled out of the freezer the night before, not knowing what I would use them for, and two containers of cremini mushrooms. I thought “hmmmm…. chicken marsala?” I love good chicken marsala. (Isn’t it silly when people say things like that? As if anyone would ever love bad chicken marsala.) But, anyway, I love it. It is such a flavorful dish, made up of just a few simple ingredients that work harmoniously together. Knowing I had a bottle of marsala in my trusty pantry, my mind was made up (I keep an inexpensive bottle around, just for cooking, it comes in handy). So, I started to wonder what I would serve it with, and pasta was the obvious choice, as you need something to soak up the yummy juices. Then I decided I would combine them, rather than cook the chicken and serve it atop the pasta.

It was a really good idea… Here’s how I made it.

Ingredients:

  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1 to 1 1/2 lbs worth) cut into bite size chunks
  • two 8 oz containers of cremini mushrooms cut into quarters or slices (I keep them in quarters because, sadly, I live in a house divided. Two mushroomers and two anti-mushroomers, they can pick around them if they’re bigger)
  • sprig of rosemary, leaves removed and finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
  • A few sprigs of thyme, leaves removed and chopped (about 1/2 tablespoon)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1 cup marsala wine
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup of heavy cream
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan (Which usually ends up becoming a cup when I start grating…)
  • few tablespoons chopped parsley (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • olive oil
  • 1 lb of your favorite pasta

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To Prepare:

Get a large pot of salted water boiling for your pasta of choice. You can use any kind you like, I used penne, but I would also love this with a long, flat noodle like fettuccine or linguine (mental note!). Begin preparing the recipe, and when the water boils add your pasta and cook for the recommended amount of time while you finish the sauce.

Generously season your chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet (mine is 12″) with two tablespoons of butter and a few swirls of olive oil until the butter has melted and foamed and it’s HOT, it’s fine if the butter browns just a little, this will help the chicken get nice and brown, (get your pans hot before you add meat! Don’t be afraid of the sizzle!). Add chicken to the properly heated pan, in a single layer and allow to brown on all sides, tossing as needed to get even browning, about 7-10 minutes. Remove to a plate or bowl.

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Lower heat to medium, add another tablespoon of butter, and swirl of oil to the pan. Add the mushrooms, cook until they release their juices, become soft, and begin to brown, about 5 minutes (I sometimes cover my skillet to speed up the softening process, then uncover to get them browned).

Add the garlic and herbs to the mushrooms, stir and cook for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Add marsala to the mushrooms and scrape the bottom of the skillet to release all the good brown bits. Reduce the marsala by half.

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Next, add chicken stock and cream and allow to thicken slightly for 2-3 minutes before adding the chicken back in. Cook for a few more minutes to get all the flavors re-acquainted.

With the pan still over medium heat, add your cooked pasta and toss to combine, coating the noodles in the creamy, mushroomy sauce (this will not, and should not, be thick like an alfredo sauce but will thicken up with the pasta, as well as when you add the cheese). Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water if it seems too thick, this is really a matter of preference. When the sauce clings to the noodles, add the cheese and parsley off the heat, toss to combine, and serve!

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Enjoy!