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Meal in a hurry, not to worry

Mushroom and red wine soup

I was halfway out the front door on Wednesday when I skidded to a halt, groaning, “Oh fff…” (Flip, Daisy, it would have been flip.

“What?” from the sofa.

“I was supposed to make a mushroom soup for my column. Completely forgot, went back to sleep.”

“Oh shhhh…” (Sherbert, Daisy. Sherbert. And no, not sorbet. Nobody says “oh sorbet” unless they’re forgetfully ordering some in a restaurant.)

This is not the side of food column writing that you normally get to see. You probably imagine it to be all fine dinner parties and genteel patter while cool music wafts in the air and things gently simmer and bubble in gorgeous little pots and the expectant hordes drool imperceptibly into their bibs at the sheer wonder of the impeccable repast shortly to be set before them.

Not really. Well, it is like that in my head too, sometimes. But there’s always a deadline looming, somewhere to be, something else to do, just as it is for any home cook with the normal demands of a home, household, job and shopping.

Not that I don’t normally plan a little better than I had done this week. In my defence, it is the time of year when I am crowded with deadlines and other urgent things, and I had bought everything I needed to make a red wine and mushroom soup. But then I just forgot that I was supposed to be making one.

Oh well. I had half an hour before having to be somewhere. I suppose we could call it my Jamie Oliver moment. One 30-minute meal coming up.

Stove hot plate on high. Hard-bottomed pot on heat. That’s 15 seconds. (Did we count the 10 seconds it had taken me to get to the kitchen from the front door?)

I had bought the ingredients, grant me that. Two large packets of chopped mushrooms, the ones they cut up and mark down. They’re from Woolies and marked “mixed”. They appeared to be pretty much half-half buttons and big browns.

I always sniff mushrooms when I buy them, even from reputable shops. If you have ever had food poisoning from off mushrooms, you won’t ever, ever take a chance again. It is vicious. The only worse case I’ve had was from bad eggs. That was a killer. These days, I plop every single egg I crack open into a cup and check it out before using it. No chances. At least this method is failsafe – an “off” egg smells off, and looks off. There’s no middle ground.

But there’s no egg in this mushroom soup. And these mushrooms were fine, earthy and ready to take on flavour. That’s what I love about mushrooms. Like no other ingredient, they soak up anything from herbs and wine to spices and lemon, their own flavours intensifying the more you add.

Mushrooms are a canvass, yet the canvass always shows through like the veins of the medium on which the artist has created a new work.

Mushroom and Red Wine Soup

2 medium onions or 3-5 shallots of equivalent mass

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 husks mace

2 bay leaves

3 Tbs butter

800g mushrooms, roughly chopped

3-4 chives

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup vegetable stock

1 cup full-bodied dry red wine

80ml vintage port

250ml double cream

I started by melting some butter in the heated pot and adding bay leaves and two husks of mace, the outer covering of nutmeg, which my daughter had brought back from her travels in India. So this, to be precise, was Kerala mace.

I added chopped shallots (you can use onion) and crushed garlic and stirred at a simmer for them to become soft and take up the tastes of the mace and bay while the garlic insinuated itself into everything.

Next, in went the chopped mushrooms, loads of them, as I wanted this to be a roughly-textured soup, a little coarse rather than being overly refined. Anyway, I had only about 22 minutes left, so there was no time for faffing around.

The mushrooms need enough time to develop the intensity of their flavours, so I turned the heat up high and kept stirring with a wooden spoon until finally the juices seeped out of the fungi. That’s a magical moment when cooking mushrooms. What you do next is just carry on while those juices mingle to add to the general happy medium. When the mushrooms are nice and soft and have turned a deeper brown, pick out the mace and bay leaves and discard.

Add a cup of vegetable stock (yes, you could use chicken stock, but you might want to mention that to vegetarian guests), a cup of red wine with plenty of body, and a good glug of vintage port. Bring to a boil and simmer for five minutes or so, season with salt and pepper. Blend vigorously off the heat, ensuring that there are no whole bits of mushroom.

The cream need only be stirred into the soup with a wooden spoon, and can then simmer very gently while you get the bowls out to plate it up and then hotfoot it out the front door, not turning back this time.

Before you do that, if like me you almost invariably photograph your food, plate it up and snip some fresh chives on top. Click. Thirty minutes. I’m outta here.

First published in Weekend Argus July 2012


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