Autumn is my favorite time of year. This is my first Irish autumn, and the change in country makes the season even more interesting. It’s not the fall that I grew up with in Arkansas, which was marked by warm golden-hued days with dramatic red, orange and yellow changes in foliage. Nor is it the Colorado harvest season with fields full of pumpkins, bugling elk and blazing yellow aspen trees. Each day I discover something new about an Irish autumn: it is moody and mysterious, soft and subtle, a slowing of pace that sends us back into our nests. A week of cool, dark, misty days is interrupted by a couple of breezy, sunny afternoons– perfect for opening all the windows to let in the cherished light and fresh air. The blackberry bushes have withered, but windfalls of apples arrive just in time. It’s not too difficult to find a friend with an apple tree who needs to offload a bumper harvest of the quickly deteriorating fruits. I’m eager to taste my first quince, slurp down briny oysters and (hopefully) forage for mushrooms.
To me, mushrooms mean autumn and this recipe for Mushroom Soup with Thyme and Brandy is the perfect thing to warm you as the light fades and the chill creeps in. Wild mushrooms would be perfect in this recipe, but we don’t all have the know-how or the environment to forage for them ourselves. I noticed Fallon & Byrne in Dublin had a fantastic display of wild mushrooms in the food hall recently. Here in Cavan Town I visited multiple grocery stores to collect as many varieties of mushroom as I could find. I happily discovered more than I expected: oyster mushrooms, baby brown caps, white buttons and portobellos. I think the quality of the dried mushrooms in this recipe is very important to the final flavor– I used Dried Wild Porcini Mushrooms from Harvey Nichols in Dublin (and they deliver!). I’ve also got a bag of the Harvey Nichols Dried Wild Mixed Forest Mushrooms (porcini, chanterelles, fairy rings) that I’m looking forward to cooking. This is not a paid ad from Harvey Nichols, I just want to share my sources so you can enjoy them too! If you’ve got good dried mushrooms, you can get away with making this soup using just one type of fresh mushroom and it will be delicious.
The mix of fresh and dried mushrooms makes for a soup with deep, intriguing flavor. A generous sprinkling of time (almost too much, but not quite) lends just the right amount of woodsiness. A splash of brandy brings a wisp of something warm and tingly that one can’t quite put a finger on when lips touch spoon. The cream is not essential to this recipe, but it does add a wonderful richness and luxury. A good bowl of soup is a lesson in restraint: only use just as many ingredients as you need and no more to keep the flavors pure and discernible. Autumn Mushroom Soup with Thyme and Brandy is a lovely way to welcome Fall into your kitchen. This easygoing soup can be kept warm on the stovetop while you welcome friends into your home or set the dinner table. Serve the soup in large bowls for a proper first course at supper, or spoon it into teacups as a taster at an open house.
Autumn Mushroom Soup with Thyme and Brandy
makes 4 bowls as a proper first course, or 8 teacups as a taster
- 1 ounce (25 g) dried porcini mushrooms
- 4 cups (950 mL) homemade chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 shallots, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- 20 ounces (570 g) assorted mushrooms, such as portobello, oyster and white button
- 3 tablespoons brandy
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 8 ounces (230 g) button mushrooms, brown Baby Bella make the most visually appealing garnish
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1/4 cup (50 mL) heavy cream (optional)
Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a medium pot, then remove from heat and add the dried porcini. Cover the pot with the lid and soak the mushrooms for twenty minutes.
Meanwhile, roughly chop the 20 ounces assorted mushrooms. Heat a large heavy soup pot over medium flame on the stovetop. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil, along with the chopped shallots. Cook the shallots a couple of minutes, until they are soft and translucent. Add the garlic, 1 tablespoon thyme leaves and chopped mushrooms. Sauté the mushrooms over medium-high heat for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they release all their liquid and begin to caramelize in the pan.
Strain the porcini mushrooms and set the chicken stock aside. Roughly chop the soaked porcini and add them to the soup pot with the other mushrooms, along with the brandy. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the brandy has just evaporated. Sprinkle in the flour over the mushrooms and cook, stirring constantly, for one minute. Strain any grit from the chicken stock and pour the stock over the mushrooms. Add the last teaspoon thyme leaves and bring the soup to a boil. Turn the heat down to simmer the soup for 10 minutes, then remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool slightly before transferring the mushroom soup to a blender (alternatively, use a hand blender to puree the soup).
Do not fill your blender more than 2/3 full (puree the soup in batches if you need to). Place a kitchen towel over the top of the blender (instead of the lid) and pulse the soup a few times, then run the machine to make the soup a smooth puree. Rinse the soup pot and wipe it clean, then return the pureed soup to the pot and warm over low heat on the stovetop while you make the garnish.
Make the garnish. Slice the Baby Bella mushrooms thinly. Heat a skillet over medium-high and add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Once the skillet and oil are hot, add the sliced mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are tender and caramelized brown. Season with a couple pinches salt and a few grinds fresh cracked pepper.
Season the soup with a few pinches salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. At this time you can stir in 1/4 cup heavy cream, which lends the soup a silky texture and rich flavor. If you’re on a heart healthy diet, the soup is delicious without the cream. Serve in a warmed bowl, topped with a few of the sautéed sliced mushrooms.