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Okay, so I was trying to avoid using the word 'mushroomy' to describe this soup and subsequent pasta bake from the new Jamie Oliver's Comfort Food. But it's what they are and, frankly, that's a very good thing for them to be. The soup is made with dried porcinis and loads of fresh button mushrooms, and while a pinch of crushed red pepper hints at heat and a small amount of heavy cream and cheddar cheese provide body and richness, the mushroom flavor comes through unadulterated. Half of the soup is then used to make the pasta bake: literally just the soup tossed with pasta and poured into a baking dish, with a little more cheddar grated over top. The finishing touch of fresh thyme, garlic, and more mushrooms is optional, but shouldn't be. It adds a layer of flavor that elevates what is otherwise an utterly humble casserole.
Why I picked this recipe: I love a good twofer, and homey and humble are my favorite comfort food qualities.
What worked: The assertive mushroom flavor in the soup and the spiffed-up topping on the pasta bake.
What didn't: The mushrooms are initially cooked with butter, aromatics and flour "...for around 25 minutes, or until soft, dark, and intense, stirring regularly." This doesn't do justice to reality: I spent those 25 minutes vigorously, and I mean vigorously, scraping the bottom of the pot as the flour tried with all its might to form a scorched patina.
Suggested tweaks: Splash spoonfuls of the broth in the pan as needed to prevent burning, and be prepared to give it your full attention. The pasta bake calls for 17 ounces of dried penne; as I recently learned from a reader, that's the standard amount in a box of pasta in the U.K. I used 1 pound, and it was fine. Not a tweak, but in case you're curious, the soup recipe made 9 cups, 4 1/2 of which went to the pasta bake.
Thanks to the wonderful people at Ecco, we have 5 copies of Jamie Oliver's Comfort Food to give away this week.
From Jamie Oliver's Comfort Food by Jamie Oliver. Copyright 2014 Jamie Oliver. Excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.