Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Merry & Pippin's Onion Soup
My friends sometimes accuse me of being a bit of a hobbit, meaning I suppose, that I enjoy the simple pleasures, especially good food shared with friends. Anyway, that's what I tell myself, but they could mean that I'm short and have hairy toes. As I sit here holed-up in my warm, comfy home looking out on a nasty storm of 'wintery mix', I'm perfectly happy to be a hobbit today.
One of the hobbit's favorite foods is mushrooms. I love the scene in the Fellowship of the Ring when Frodo, Sam, Merry & Pippin stumble onto land where Frodo had been caught illicitly hunting mushrooms as a youth. After reuniting with the farmer, the hobbits are sent on their way with a basket of mushrooms as a token of forgiveness. I wanted to name this soup after the farmer, but would you eat it if I named it 'Maggot's Onion Soup'? I didn't think so.
This soup is similar to a French Onion Soup, but that soup relies on beef or veal stock for it's broth. In order to make a vegetarian version, I'm making a mushroom broth instead. The soup is vegan if you don't put the cheese on at the end, but I love the cheese. It adds a wonderful dimension. I'll call this one vegetarian.
I began by rinsing a large handful of dried shitake mushrooms and soaking them in hot water. As they hydrate, the soaking water will turn into a mushroom 'tea' that will flavor the broth.
I peeled and sliced 5 large onions. In my soup pot, I heated a little bit of olive oil and threw in the onions. I let the onions cook over medium heat until they were caramelized - a nice toasty brown. I let this take a good long time, like about 20-30 min - there's an ice storm outside, I'm not going anywhere. Then I added a half pound of sliced fresh baby bella mushrooms and continued caramelizing the mushrooms and onions together.
When they were sufficiently brown, I poured in a half-cup of dry red wine and stirred it around to get up all of the deliciousness was starting to stick to the bottom of the pan. Then I poured in the soaking liquid from the shitakes.
I seasoned the broth with Bragg Liquid Aminos, black pepper, and one cube of Knorr vegetable bouillon and added some more water.
I made some croutons by slicing some day-old baguette rolls, sprinkling them with olive oil and toasting them in the oven at 350F. After about 6 min, I flipped them over to let them brown on both sides.
To finish the soup, I dished it into a bowl, topped it with the croutons and then grated some aged provolone cheese on top. This went under the broiler for about 3 minutes until the cheese was melted and toasted.
A few years ago, scientists reported that in addition to the 4 tastes the tongue could discern - salt, sweet, sour, & bitter - a fifth taste had been recognized, umami. Umami is sometimes described as savory or earthy. If you want to experience umami, try this soup. With the mushrooms, the caramelized onions, the Bragg's, and the cheese, this soup is rich with umami.
Any soup blog that begins with hobbits must end with umami.