Sunday, October 22, 2006

Mushroom Rice Soup

Proust had madeleines; I have mushrooms. When the weather is overcast, damp and warm, I often think about childhood mushroom picking trips at our dacha (summer house). Then I’m transported to some sort of a Tolstovian country idyll that is mostly a figment of my imagination.

A while back I wrote this in the comments of a post about mushrooms at The Seasonal Cook's blog:

I spent part of my childhood in Russia and my warmest, fuzziest memories are of mushroom picking in the country. I think my parents taught me to identify different types of mushrooms when I was 5 or 6. We would mushroom picking in the forest on damp, rainy days ('cuz rain makes mushrooms sprout, I was told.) I remember being so excited as a kid when I found the good eating mushrooms. I got even more excited when I spotted the poisonous moohamor--"death to flies," literally. This mushroom had a bright red cap with yellow dots.
We also picked lots of lisichki, or little foxes (chantarelles). I don’t know the English names of all the other mushrooms we found, and I’d be surprised if they even grow in North America. Here are some translations for the mycologists from this BBC article: Bely or Borovik mushroom (Penny bun boletus), Opiata (honey mushroom), Podberyozovik (Rough birch stock), Masliak (Slippery jack) and Ryzhik (Saffron milk cap).

Mushrooms soup is still my favorite way to use mushrooms. Lately I’ve been craving Russian soups, partly because fall calls for rich, earthy food, and partly because I’ve been itching to do some cooking that reflects this blog’s theme.

My ideal mushroom soup has both dried and fresh mushrooms, so I based it on a recipe from Beyond Salmon and a mushroom noodle soup from Anya von Bremzen’s Please to the Table. Admittedly, mushroom rice soup doesn't sound all that Russian, but the boyfriend claims to hate barley. Nearly all Russian soups also call for potatoes, which I've left out here. I think that starch with starch is overkill, especially if you have a desk job.

This mushroom rice soup was really pretty good, if a little too rich. I suspect that my homemade chicken stock was at fault. It’s been ingrained in me that you make soup with stock—beef, chicken, even vegetable—but never water. So I avoid water-based soups in fear that they’ll taste flat and, well, watery. Am I wrong?

For the soup, I soaked ½ ounces dried porcini mushrooms in ½ cup of water for two hours. I strained the water through a coffee filter and reserved it for later. If you’re smart, you’ll run your mushrooms through several changes of water to get rid of the grit. If you’re me, you’ll do that after you nibble on a mushroom and end up with a mouthful of dirt right before you’re supposed to toss the mushrooms into the soup pot.

I warmed up the diced aromatics—a small onion, half a leek, half a large carrot, a garlic clove—in some olive oil and butter until the onions were translucent. Then I added 2 cups of sliced, fresh mushrooms, and sautéed all the vegetables for 10 more minutes. I added the chopped, re-hydrated dried mushrooms; mushroom stock and 3 cups of chicken stock; 2 bay leaves and couple of peppercorns. All of this simmered for 20-25 minutes, after which I added 2-3 tablespoons of dry rice. The soup simmered for 15-20 minutes more, until the rice was done. I tossed in a bunch of chopped dill before serving and we ate the soup with dollops of sour cream.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Pumpkin Zapekanka

It’s boring and banal to complain about how busy you are, but that’s my excuse for not updating. I haven’t cooked anything blog-worthy in weeks. Fortunately, it doesn’t take long to bake a zapekanka, my latest farmer's cheese creation. I’m surprised that I’ve never blogged about zapekanka; it’s one of the quickest and easiest Russian desserts. Zapekanka really refers to any kind of baked pudding. There’s carrot zapekanka, rice zapekanka, and so on, but the most common type of zapekanka is made of farmer’s cheese. Think of it as crustless cheesecake.

I Americanized this version by adding pumpkin, being fall and all. You could substitute ricotta for the farmer’s cheese and make a sort of cheesecake. A pastry or cookie crust or shell would also work nicely in this recipe should you want to Americanize it further.

The ingredients aren’t exact; I eyed everything. My zapekanka suffered a little thanks to inexact measuring—I used too many wet ingredients, so the cake was soggy. Still, I think pumpkin zapekanka is a good idea, even if I didn't carry it to fruition.

I mixed two cups of farmer’s cheese with two egg yolks. Then I added one at a time: a cup of canned pumpkin, 4-5 tablespoons sugar, 3 tablespoons sour cream, 4-5 tablespoons uncooked cream of wheat (not instant),1 tablespoon melted butter, a couple of handfuls of walnuts and raisins, and a good dash of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. I beat the egg whites separately before adding at the end. I baked the whole thing in a 375-degree oven for 50-60 minutes.
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