Last week I talked about improvisational cooking, finding inspiration in my pantry. Continuing with that train of thought, I want to focus today on other sources of inspiration. Viewing cooking as a creative process I am always looking for something to get the artistic juices flowing in the kitchen. Rather than going to the store with preconceived ideas of what’s on the menu, I like to be guided by the seasons and by what just looks delicious. Don’t get me wrong, I do maintain a list for staples and recipe ingredients, either new or well-tested, but I often develop ideas while scanning the available products. This is exactly how it went down with this weeks feature. We have a meat market nearby that offers meats raised and butchered on the family owned farm and then sold at their store. Occasionally, my husband feels the need for a good rib-eye which calls for a sojourn to the market. Thus it was the other day. While looking at the steaks I eyed these beautiful beef shanks that led me to the idea of making beef stock. I often make chicken stock but rarely beef so I decided to look online to see what tips I could pick up. It was here that I found Emeril LaGasse’s recipe. It sounded perfect so I took it from there using these lovely shanks instead of the bones as he suggested. His method resulted in a deep rich stock that begged to be made into hearty soup so again, I went online to search for ideas.
This time I found a mushroom-barley creation featured in Saveur magazine and that was dinner. This was my creative process and the outcome was outstanding.
Here is how it went down.
MUSHROOM BARLEY SOUP Serves 8-10
Recipe adapted from Saveur magazine
1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
¼ cup olive oil
8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 ribs celery finely chopped
2 medium carrots, finely chopped
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped (I substituted larger spring onions)
1 lb. white button mushrooms, thinly sliced (I used cremini)
¼ cup sherry
8 cups beef stock
½ cup pearl barley
2 tsp. thyme leaves
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
⅓ cup finely chopped parsley
- 1. Place dried porcinis in a bowl and cover with 1 cup boiling water; let sit until soft, about 30 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer mushrooms to a cutting board and finely chop; set aside. Pour soaking liquid through a fine strainer into a bowl, leaving some liquid at the bottom along with any dirt or sediment; set soaking liquid aside.
- 2. Heat oil in a 6-qt. Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add garlic, celery, carrots, and onion, and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add reserved porcini and white mushrooms, and cook, stirring, until mushrooms give off their liquid and it evaporates, about 14 minutes. Add sherry, and cook until evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add reserved soaking liquid along with stock, barley, and thyme, and bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, covered and stirring occasionally, until barley is tender, about 30 minutes. Stir in juice and season with salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley.
Robust stock is essential as a base for this soup. Regardless if you make your own or use a commercial product, be sure it is rich and flavorful. This preparation is a more elegant version of the New York deli staple. The porcini mushrooms and their soaking liquid add to the earthiness provided by the meaty creminis, the barley contributes chew and texture. The fresh lemon and parsley at the end adds a bright finish. If you are a fan of the fleshy fungus, there are thousands of varieties available today. Try experimenting with other types. Remember, never soak them in water as they are like little sponges and will absorb too much liquid. Clean them using a soft brush or paper towel if necessary. Another tip is never store them in plastic as the moisture will cause them to deteriorate quickly. I store mine in a cotton bag or clean cotton dish towel but you could also use a paper bag.
It is officially spring but the weather in my neighborhood has yet to get that memo so soup for supper was very satisfying. If you are looking for comfort and an updated play on a classic, I would advise you to try this recipe very soon. I know there are many people who make the same dishes every week (taco Tuesday, meatloaf Monday) but my creative spirit is always looking for new ways to spread the love. I hope I have provided you some inspiration for this weeks menu. Regardless of what’s for dinner, keep spreading the love, one dish at a time. Hoping for warmer temps as we approach April, I send love from my kitchen to yours. Jeanne