Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Holy Shitake Mushrooms, Batman!

If ever there was a week fit for celebration, this would be it. Consider: St. Patrick's Day, the Vernal Equinox, and Easter are all crammed within a seven day spread. It almost sounds like the set up for a joke! As my best attempts at punning have always been met with unmitigated derision, however, I have decided to stick with seasonal recipes rather than than riddles. Alas, I've already missed my first deadline and given in to the temptation to pun on my ingredients. This could be a long year...

As it's early in the season, our crops are still scarce, and what is harvestable is often hidden amongst the cover crops that have taken over the beds in winter. Still, we have our regular offerings: daily eggs, abundant spinach and collards, and, every week or so, a crop of shitakes from our 300-some logs. Shitake farming has got to be the best farm gig around: after the initial labor of inoculating the logs, which occurred at Serenbe before my arrival, shitake farmers do approximately nothing. Seriously, shitakes are more self-sufficient than a cabin full of pioneers. From what I've heard, news of this new no-work wonder crop got out several years ago, leading to an explosion of the shitake market as every farmer and her 15 cousins all invested in 'shrooms. Predictably, the market then tanked; most of those sunshine shitake farmers bailed; and we now enjoy a healthy return on all of the hard, hard work of mushroom farming.

This weekend I went looking for a way to use a bunch of asparagus and a bag of shitakes, and ended up with a riff of a recipe that actually tasted pretty good. While I prefer to follow a recipe exactly on the first go-round, the vagaries of the harvest (and of our refrigerator) somehow always seem to send me on a hunt for substitutions. Lacking adequate quantities of either asparagus or shitakes, I bulked up the soup with a half a roasted eggplant. Additionally, our house was fresh out of clabbered cream (can you even buy that in Palmetto, GA?) so I substituted some of my homemade yogurt and a bit of milk. I have scallions approximately 1 out of 10 times that a recipe calls for them, so, as usual, I used an onion instead. Nota Bene: I recommend pureeing this soup until completely smooth, as the green color is not complemented by lumpiness. The finished product will be a hearty, pistachio-colored soup that warms you from the inside out.

Asparagus, Mushroom, and Spring Onion Soup
Serves 8

1 lb cremini or shitake mushrooms
3 lb asparagus
4 cups water
2 T rice oil or grapeseed oil
2 scallions
14 fresh sage leaves
4 T clabbered cream or creme fraiche
salt and pepper to taste

1) Trim the stems from the mushrooms (shitake stems are always too tough for eating, so I am told, and really only good for making a mushroom broth) and place them in a medium saucepan along with the tough ends from the asparagus. Slice the mushroom caps thinly and set aside.

2) Pour the water in with the trimmings and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes. Strain the cooking broth and set it aside. (Compost the trimmings!)

3) Thinly slice the asparagus spears (unless they are the super skinny kind already, which mine were). Heat a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat; add the oil and heat gently. Add the white parts of the scallions and sauté for 2-3 minutes, or until soft and translucent. Add the sliced mushrooms and sauté for 3-4 minutes or until they soften. Add the sliced asparagus, cover partially, and cook for 4-6 minutes, or until the asparagus turns bright green. Now add teh strained broth, bring to a simmer, and cook for 6-8 minutes, or until the flavors blend.

4) Meanwhile, finely slice 6 of the sage leaves. The other 8 are a garnish.

5) Working in batches if necessary, transfer the soup to a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Return the pureed soup to the pan, stir in 2 T of the cream and the cut sage leaves. Season to taste. Reheat gently, but do not boil.

6) Serve the soup with an additional dollop of cream, a fresh sage leaf, and sliced scallion greens if desired.

1 comment:

wendy said...

I just have to say it: Any blog as beautifully written and entertaining as yours deserves a reward or something. AND recipes to boot? I feel like I've just unearthed my new favorite should-be-working pass time!

You must be having a blast.