01 August 2009

Charlie Palmer’s Casual Cooking

Charlie Palmer is the chef at Manhattan’s fashionable Aureole restaurant and Charlie Palmer Steak and several others. He has won numerous James Beard awards. Oh yes, and he has kids to feed. So all the fine dinning that impressed the James Beard awards committee’s, all the culinary expertise that draws diners to his restaurants mean little to kids in the kitchen. Instead of writing a pompous, coffee table sized tome on cooking at Aureole, he wrote a book about feeding his sons. (The next year he did the Aureole book!)

The book offers a chef’s take on chicken soup, macaroni & cheese, brownie ice cream sandwiches and baked chicken. As a kid, I watched my mother opening up cans of mushroom soup to add to dishes copied from the newspaper. There is no worse site in a kitchen than contents of a can of mushroom soup. It is an unsightly grayish color with flecks of rubbery dark bits posing as mushrooms. It looks like cream gravy that has been left to sit out on the stovetop for several days. When I looked at it, I always wondered what had befallen the cook who left this soup to coagulate in such a foul form.

Since then, the thought of Mushroom Soup has been forever tainted, until Charlie Palmer came along. Central New York proves a fertile breeding ground for morel mushrooms, as does West Virginia. The soup has leeks, thought Palmer suggests wild leeks or ramps as a substitution, another West Virginia delicacy. Morels are often available but last time I saw them in a store they were $58 a pound! Palmer suggests using button mushrooms and mixing them with rehydrated dried mushrooms. Save the water from the soaking liquid and strain it for the stock. Check out the post at Lucindaville for rehydrating mushrooms. Finally, canned white beans work fine but rinse them good before using.

Mushroom Soup (without Cream)

2 pounds wild mushrooms – if possible a mix of morels and one or two others
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup chopped leeks (white part only)
1 stalk celery, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
2 tablespoons dry sherry
3 cups chicken broth
2 cups beef broth
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cups pureed white beans (about 2 16 ounce cans)
Ground nutmeg

1. Using a small brush or a clean towel, carefully clean the mushrooms of all debris. Remove any tough stems and roughly slice the mushrooms: you want a rustic look, so don’t try to create perfect slices. Set Aside.
2. Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and celery and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are quite soft but not brown. Stir in the thyme and sherry and cook v for 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sauté for an additional 5 minutes.
3. Add the broths and season to taste with salt and pepper. Raise the heat and bring to a boil, then lover the heat and cook for 20 minutes, or until the mushrooms are very tender and the broth is infused with flavor.
4. Stir the bean puree into the soup. Season to taste with nutmeg and, if necessary, additional salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, or until the soup is well blended and very hot. Serve immediately or cool (preferably in an ice-water bath), cover, and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Now that is mushroom soup! The only place for that soup in a can would be in an Andy Warhol painting.

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