Saturday, April 13, 2024

The Quest for Snowstorms Inspired This Powerful Mushroom Soup

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It was the middle of a snowstorm and I had some cooking to do.

Not for me or my family, but for a friend recovering from a hospital stay; I had signed up for a meal-train plan, my turn had arrived and the unplowed roads prevented me from going to the grocery store. My only choice: use my freezer and pantry, get creative.

I know this wouldn’t excite everyone, but it made me happy. A chance to play!

Let me pause here and recognize how privileged I am to be able to afford to keep my home well stocked with food. For far too many people, the question isn’t what to do with everything they have; it’s about knowing how to get by with far too little. I know because I’ve been there myself – and I’m grateful I’m not there now.

Get the recipe: Mushroom, bean and couscous soup

I try not to take for granted the fact that I can almost always go to the store and buy more food, even when I really don’t need it. But the truth is that I too often fall prey to my own desires, as well as those of my husband and my teenager, which means that even though we have the makings of a good chili or a good casserole At home, if the kid wants pizza, I usually get what I need to make pizza – or order one.

This time, that was out of the question, so I was able to pretend I was on “Chopped,” competing against no one but myself.

The request was for a satisfying meal with a good balance of vegetables and protein. While shopping in my own pantry, I quickly realized I had the makings of mushroom soup. Fresh produce was a bit scarce, but years earlier my husband had bought me several bags of beautiful dried porcini mushrooms that I hadn’t touched. I had onions and garlic, as always, and several pastas and dried grains. Fregola, a pearl-sized grilled couscous from Sardinia, is said to add weight when cooked quickly. A quart jar of white beans that I had cooked the day before (of course I had!) sat in the fridge, ready to add bulk, protein and, thanks to their cooking liquid, flavor. flavor and silky texture.

My spice drawer is full of flavor enhancers. I dug up a bag of dried Sicilian peppers that I didn’t even remember buying, and a vague memory of a friend returning from a trip began to take shape. (When your career revolves around food, your friends and colleagues bring you all kinds of little edible souvenirs.)

I loved making soup, but I’m also lucky enough to know how to cook. If I had needed to search for a recipe that met all my criteria, it would have taken me more time to find all the substitutes than to simply develop the flavor as I went along, tasting, adjusting and using the generosity which too often I do not appreciate as generously.

For you, I took out the guesswork and got specific. I based this recipe on my snowy day in the kitchen, after adapting it to use not exactly the things I had in my pantry that day, but what you probably have in yours – or what you could easily get. I’m not going to ask you to hunt down dried Sicilian red peppers just to make this soup. Instead, because these peppers were mild and not spicy, in other tests I had success making them with sun-dried tomatoes. The raft of dried porcini mushrooms my husband mail-ordered at a decent wholesale price would be way too expensive at a grocery store, if only you could find them, so I used a little mushroom powder instead (which I highly recommend as a super- a powerful pantry staple, and one that you can grind yourself if needed) as well as fresh mushrooms. Fregola became pearl couscous (and could be any other hearty cereal).

The most important thing about soup is this: After our roads were cleared of snow, I brought it to my friend’s house in time for dinner, and it helped her and her family spend one more night without having to worry about food. I hope this can do the same for you.

Get the recipe: Mushroom, bean and couscous soup

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