Wednesday, March 11, 2009

CSA week 14 - Barley soup with mushrooms and kale

Last week was kale week in the New York Times. No particular reason that I saw; they just had a few different recipes over a few days. I was ready for an alternative to the Portuguese kale soup I had planned since I had made a Spanish carrot soup last week so it was easy for this recipe to catch my interest.

I've always thought of mushroom barley soup as Northern European, quite possibly due to poor geography skills. Italian barley soup--and this is just one of several recipes for such a thing you'll find on the web--is rather a surprise to me. Live and learn.

I had a lot of ideas to tinker with the recipe--add tomatoes and/or sausage, leave out most of the broth to make a barley risotto, switch out the barley for millet, change up the seasonings--but I'm tired and I don't feel like screwing around today so I just made it by the numbers. A few small changes, though: I used half butter for the fat, used a spring onion and since, like last week's collards, the kale seemed particularly tender, I didn't remove the stems.

March 6, 2009
Recipes for Health
Barley Soup With Mushrooms and Kale

This is a comforting winter meal in a bowl based on a classic Central European mushroom and barley soup.

1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
2 cups boiling water
1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, as needed
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and sliced thick
2 large garlic cloves, minced
Salt, preferably kosher salt, to taste
3/4 cup whole or pearl barley
1 1/2 quarts chicken stock or water
A bouquet garni made with a few sprigs each thyme and parsley, and a bay leaf and a Parmesan rind [I'd usually add a little soy sauce to a mushroom soup, but a Parmesan rind is just as good an umami infusion device.]
8 to 10 ounces kale (regular or cavolo nero), stemmed and washed thoroughly
Freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Place the dried porcini mushrooms in a bowl or a Pyrex measuring cup, and pour on two cups boiling water. Let sit for 30 minutes. Set a strainer over a bowl, and line it with cheesecloth. Lift the mushrooms from the water and squeeze over the strainer, then rinse in several changes of water. Squeeze out the water and set aside. Strain the soaking water through the cheesecloth-lined strainer. Add water as necessary to make two cups. Set aside.

2. Heat the oil in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, and add the onion. Cook, stirring often, until just about tender, about five minutes, and add the sliced fresh mushrooms. Cook, stirring, until the mushrooms are beginning to soften, about three minutes, and add the garlic and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Continue to cook for about five minutes, until the mixture is juicy and fragrant. Add the reconstituted dried mushrooms, the barley, the mushroom soaking liquid, and the stock or water. Salt to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer 45 minutes. Meanwhile, stack the kale leaves in bunches and cut crosswise into slivers. Simmer the bouquet garni during the 45 minute simmering, then pull it out when the soup is done.

3. Add the kale to the simmering soup, and continue to simmer for another 15 to 20 minutes. [That's a whole lot of kale. I had to add it in batches and then wait for each to wilt to make room in the pot for the next.] The barley should be tender and the broth aromatic. The kale should be very tender. Remove the bouquet garni, taste and adjust salt, add a generous amount of freshly ground pepper and serve.

Yield: Serves six to eight

Advance preparation: The soup will keep for about three days in the refrigerator, but the barley will swell and absorb liquid, so you will have to add more to the pot when you reheat.

I did give in to the temptation to meddle and fried up some sweet Italian sausage to added with the kale. But it was a small sausage and a big pot of soup so it didn't make much of a difference, the soup was still just kind of blah. What did make a difference was a bit more salt, a bit more pepper, a whole lot more Parmesan, just a small shot of balsamic vinegar and an extra ten minutes on the stove to get the last of the al dente out of the barley and kale. Then the flavors started to pop. A little acid brings out the best in hearty greens so the vinegar turned it from mushroom barley soup with some kale floating in it to kale soup with barley and mushrooms. I'm not sure that's entirely a good thing as I do like barley mushroom soup. Eh, the flavors will balance in the refrigerator overnight. That's what soups do.

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