You know, late autumn or early winter have their good sides, too. Sure, November over here is the textbook version of any and all November-related stereotypes from hell, a time during which you might just consider hoofing through the next best desert just to keep yourself from crawling under your bed in an attempt to hibernate through all of the gray, depressing yuck outside.
Well, with a little luck, you might be able to catch one of those days that make staying awake and in the country worth it – a day, a walk in the forest, that makes you realize why the ancient cultures throughout Europe thought the romans and other invading cultures to be silly for building large, cold stone halls and temples in honors to their gods – they had their “cathedrals” right there, vast green and golden temples bristling with life, lined with high-rising pillars, formed by the forests themselves. I usually don’t like clichés like this, but yea… we love our forests around these parts of the world – and on days like today, the astonishing but simple beauty of sunbeams breaking through the layers of colorful leaves and a light layer of fog to light up an equally colorful forest floor really makes me understand why. To celebrate these beautiful days, I came up with this soup a few years back, in an attempt to bring all the yummies our forests have to offer this time of the year and the comfort a silky and smooth soup provides on cold days together in one bowl~
1 Tsp Honey
1 Shallot, finely chopped
1 Tbsp Butter
50ml Red Port – White Port works too, but it’s sweeter than the Red in most cases, have an extra tastebud on the lookout for that while adjusting the seasoning
700ml Venison or Mushroom Stock
400g Chestnuts, precooked or roasted and shelled
4 dried Porcini Mushrooms
200ml light Cooking Cream
10g 80% Dark Chocolate, finely grated
¼ empty Vanilla Pod
½ Tsp Orange Zest
Opt: 2 Tbsp cold Butter – finishing flourishes and all that jazz
1) Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and cover them with the stock you’re going to use later. Leave them to soak for about 2 hours.
2) Add the butter to a pot large enough to hold all of your ingredients and set it onto medium heat.
3) Once the butter has dissolved, add the shallots and sautée them until they turn translucent. Make sure they don’t take on color at this point – if that happens, turn down the heat and gently stir them while they’re cooling down a bit.
4) Add the chopped chestnuts and a generous pinch of salt to the mix, drizzle the lot with honey, and, after a gentle stir to distribute the honey, give them 3 mins to glaze over.
5) Deglaze the pot with the port wine and make sure to stir up anything that might be sticking to the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon or spatula.
6) Fish the dried porcinis out of their bowl, squeeze out the mushroom-boosted stock back into the bowl – you’re going to need that in a heartbeat – and finely chop them.
7) Add the stock, the contents of your mushroom-soaking bowl, the vanilla and the chopped porcinis to your pot.
8) Leave the lot to gently simmer on medium heat for 10 mins.
9) Crank up the heat to high to bring the soup to a rapid boil, then turn the heat down to low.
10) Once the bubbling-action in the pot has calmed down, hunt down the vanilla pod and remove it, add the cream, a generous scrape of nutmeg and a pinch of chilli flakes and thoroughly whizz the soup with a stick blender until it’s smooth and silky.
11) Set the pot back on low heat, just to keep it warm until you’re ready to serve – keep an eye on it, the cream might split or turn grainy if it gets too hot. Just make sure the soup doesn’t start to boil somewhere along the line – if you’re prepping this way in advance, keep the cream out until you’re just about ready to serve.
12) Add the chocolate and keep stirring until it has completely dissolved, then stir in the orange zest.
13) Have a taste, and adjust the seasoning with more salt, nutmeg and chilli if necessary – in case you think you might need several adjustments, give the recent additions a couple of minutes to develop their aroma in the warm soup before possibly going overboard with the next one.
14) Keep the soup warm for the moment and get the toppings on the road.
200g Button Mushrooms, depending on their size, thinly sliced or quartered. If you have baby mushrooms on hand, halve them or keep them as they are.
1 Shallot, finely chopped
4 Slices of cured Wild Boar Ham – I usually go with Ibérico for this one
Alt: thinly sliced cured Venison or Duck or Mountain Goat Salami – I’m aware that’s a rarity all around, but if you find one of those at an Artisan Market or shop, go for it!
Veggie Option: Very thinly sliced roasted Chestnuts
1 Tbsp Butter or Lardons
1 Tbsp Butter
2-3 Sprigs of Parsley, finely chopped
1) Render the lardons in a pan set on medium-high heat. Or, if your’re going with the butter, simply melt it in said pan.
2) Once the lardons have given off their juices – or the butter has melted – add the shallots and caramelize them in it for 5-6 mins.
3) Turn the heat to medium.
4) Add the shrooms, season the lot with a generous pinch of salt, nutmeg and fresh parsley, give them a hearty flip to distribute the seasoning throughout and sautée the contents of your pan until the mushrooms are tender.
5) Taste and, if necessary, adjust the seasoning.
Assembling the Dish
1) Stir the cold butter into the soup – make sure it dissolves completely. This adds an extra boost to the silkyness of the soup, but it’s an optional thing. If you’re happy with the soup the way it is – or if you’re watching your intake – keep it out.
2) Divide the topping into 4 warm bowls and pour the soup around those pretty islands.
3) Arrange the ham, salami, chestnuts, whatever you’re going with, on top of the islands.
4) Serve while it’s hot!