Thursday, September 22, 2011

Of the earth, earthy - lentil and mushroom soup

In 2006, straight after I finished my PhD, I took off for France with a friend. Harvey had already decided he wouldn't travel to Europe again, but it was a book he bought that inspired me to go: Stephanie Alexander's magnificent Cooking and Travelling in South-West France.

We stayed at a farm estate five minutes outside Sarlat-le Caneda, about four hours from Bordeaux. Every morning Madame would tell us what her son was cooking that night, so we could decide if we would be in for dinner. Duck was often the centrepiece. Everything was "bio" (organic) - not because it was "green", she told us, but because it just tasted better. Over our seven-night stay we managed to eat there five times, and it was consistently the best food experience I've ever had.

It was early summer, so we didn't have anything like this rich dark soup, but in winter I'm sure something very like it would have appeared. Stephanie Alexander says that although it's her own invention, "I feel sure it would be welcomed by any resident of the south-west".

Lentil and mushroom soup (serves 6-8)

300g Puy lentils (the French grey-green ones)
2 cups chicken stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 large black mushrooms
2 Tbsp rendered duck fat or olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large potato, peeled and diced

* Rinse lentils under cold water and drain. Put in a large saucepan and add 1.5 litres (6 cups) of water. Simmer gently for 20-30 minutes until tender.
* Make a fricassee: Chop mushrooms (including stems) into small pieces. Heat duck fat or oil in a wide ffrying pan and saute onion for 3-4 minutes. Add garlic, potato and mushrooms, cover, and sweat for a few minutes. Lift lid and stir well. Saute until potato is tender, mushrooms have started to colour, and there is a bit of a sizzle going on.
* When lentils are tender, tip the fricassee into the lentil pot and add the stock. Bring to a simmer and season to taste. Simmer for 5 minutes. Let cool until warm, then blend in a food processor or blender (do not overfill - you may need to do this in batches). Reheat and serve very hot, garnished with a few fresh herbs and/or a little cream.

I found this turned out to be a little too thick, so I thinned it down slightly with a bit more stock and water. I was worried that it might be just too earthy and rich for my dinner guests, but they loved it. And it froze and reheated beautifully for a later lunch.


Mel said...

This sounds delicious!!

Moira said...

typed into google: chicken stock, puy lentils and mushrooms cause I had some stock and lentils and thought mushrooms would go well with those 2 things to make a nice soup. This post came up and I was most happy to find a kiwi (I live in Australia but was born in Raglan) blog about food. And a mention of Stephanie who often helps me to cook! I cooked the soup and it was delicious. Thank you!