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.
From Jamie Oliver's Comfort Food by Jamie Oliver. Copyright 2014 Jamie Oliver. Excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
- 3/4 oz dried porcini mushrooms
- 1 onion
- 1 stalk of celery
- 2 lbs button mushrooms
- olive oil
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 good pinch of dried chili flakes
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 chicken or vegetable bouillon cubes
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
- 2 oz Cheddar cheese
- Pasta Bake
- 17 oz dried penne
- 1 handful of button mushrooms
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 10 sprigs of fresh thyme
In a small bowl, just cover the porcini with boiling water and leave to soak for 5 minutes. Peel the onion, trim the celery, and roughly chop both, then clean the button mushrooms and put it all into a large saucepan on a medium-high heat with a good lug of oil, the butter, the chili flakes, and the flour. Scoop in the porcini, reserving the soaking water for later. Cook it all for around 25 minutes, or until soft, dark, and intense, stirring regularly.
Make up 6 cups of broth. Gradually add the hot broth to the pan, stirring continuously, along with 90% of the reserved porcini liquid. Bring back to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the cream and grate in the Cheddar, then blend until smooth. Season to perfection and there you have it—mushroom soup for six!
PS: To turn the soup into a pasta bake for six, preheat the oven to 325oF. Cook the pasta in a saucepan of boiling salted water according to package instructions, until just al dente, then drain and return to the pan. Pour over half the soup (eat the rest or save for another day), gently mix together, then tip into a baking dish (8 x 12 inches) and top with an extra grating of Cheddar. To make it extra special, use a mandolin (use the guard!) to shave the mushrooms and garlic into a bowl, strip in the thyme leaves, then toss it all in a drizzle of oil and scatter over the pasta. Bake for around 30 minutes, or until golden and starting to crisp up at the edges. Yum.