January 19, 2011
Corn chowder

Photo by Judith Hausman

This corn chowder, last year’s dinner soup, will be my (much-requested) contribution to this year’s soup swap.

What has become my annual, all-girl Soup Swap event will take place this Sunday. (I confess I didn’t make up the idea; I stole it from a women’s magazine I rifled in a doctor’s waiting room.) The Soup Swap updates the cookie-swap format — who needs to eat more cookies anyway? — and sends my busy, working women friends home with three homemade dinners to eat or freeze. The huge snow piles we’ve got to contend with this year spell soup to me anyway, especially with garden goodies in the freezer.

Here’s the idea: I invite about six women and ask each to bring three quarts of soup along, preferably packaged in freezer bags, and copies of the recipe for it. One big pot of soup yields three quarts easily. I dish out another soup for dinner for us all and then each guest “shops” for three quarts to take home with her. Given individual tastes, it works out to pick three from among the seven kinds available. (One friend doesn’t like beans and another friend won’t eat shellfish, for example.)

We aren’t rigid; last year Connie couldn’t cook so she bought three quarts of lobster bisque to contribute to the swap. Renee brought red lentil soup, Barbara brought turkey-vegetable and Sandy brought carrot. The corn chowder I served for our dinner was such a hit that I‘m making it (with local corn that I froze) for the take-home portions this year.

This year, the dinner soup I’m making will be the three-mushroom soup I love, garnished with a few exotic mushrooms from a vendor at my nearby winter farmers’ market. (The recipe below will probably need to be doubled for the dinner).

With some interesting Northeast artisanal cheeses, a couple of  breads, such as homemade corn bread or biscuits, a farmers’ market whole-grain country loaf, and a few bottles of buttery white and rustic red wine, we’ll be all set.

We’ll finish with a pile of fresh fruit or a refreshing dessert, like orange slices poached in wine, unless someone wants to make some cookies. Low-key parties are my favorite and with less stress on the host, the guests eat better. Of course, there’s no reason men can’t come along, too.

Recipe: Three Mushroom Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 cups or more chopped portabella, cremini or baby bella cultivated mushrooms
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup dried porcini mushrooms (or substitute shiitake or a mix of dried wild mushrooms)
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 T. butter
  • 2 large porcini bouillon cubes (Knorr cubes are often available at Italian delis or specialty stores), or substitute 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 4 cups or more water (if using bouillon cubes)
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
  • splash of cognac, port or dry sherry
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup whole milk, evaporated milk or light cream, optional
  • diced fresh wild mushrooms (shiitake, oyster, coral and so on), if available, for garnish

Preparation

Cover the dried mushrooms with warm water, and let them sit for 1 hour or more. Strain the juice and save. Chop the re-hydrated mushrooms and set aside.

Sauté the cultivated mushrooms in a soup pot, and when soft and slightly browned, add the broth or bouillon cubes and 4 cups water, and the reserved soaking water. Cook 30 to 45 minutes, until the mushrooms are very soft. Add seasonings and  cognac. Purée roughly with an immersion blender. There should be chunks of mushroom still visible. Thin with more water or milk, as desired.

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