Friday, 11 November 2011 | 16 comments

Mushroom barley soup with rosemary oil

In the last months of my mom’s life, she spent a lot of time at home, unable to get around very easily. She watched a lot of TV. After she passed away, I found a notebook. The first twenty pages or so were filled with lists of ingredients and, sometimes, half-scribbled directions. It would seem that Mama had been watching some cooking shows.My mother was a great cook, but outside of a few indulgences—prosciutto comes to mind—she had a fairly straightforward, American-fare cooking style. The recipes in this notebook, though, were beautiful, celebration recipes. Roast chicken with morels and madeira, french bread pudding with sweet italian sausage, ragout with escarole and chardonnay. Recipes for big dinners or brunch, shared with other people. I wept over that notebook. What had my mom been planning when she wrote those recipes? With whom did she want to share them? They were just jotted-down recipes—but she was never able to make them. I turned to the notebook again and again in the following days and months. Lots of times, I’d flip to pages in the middle, hoping there might be more. Someone else found what I had been looking for, though. On the last page of the notebook, more of my mom’s handwriting. But not a recipe:

Work like you don’t need the money
Love like you’ve never been hurt
Dance like nobody’s watching

It seemed pretty clear that those recipes needed to be cooked. The first page of the notebook had a mushroom and wine soup. This is a riff on the cream-based recipe my mom wrote down. It’s been simmering all afternoon, and the whole house smells amazing. When I tasted it earlier, it was lacking a little je ne sais quois, so I whirled some rosemary with olive oil in the food processor—drizzled over the top, it adds a resinous zing to brighten up the earthy mushrooms.
Ben’s on his way over, and we’re going to sit down with warm bowls and pour the wine. More than any cooking instruction, the recipes in my mom’s handwriting are a reminder of how acts of nourishment, of gathering around a table, can be acts of love.

Mushroom-barley soup with rosemary oil

You will need

    4 tablespoons unsalted butter
    2 shallots, chopped
    4 cups sliced mushrooms (I used baby bella and shitake)
    3/4 cup dry red wine
    10 cups vegetable broth, chicken broth, or water
    1 cup pearl barley
    2 teaspoons kosher salt

    4-5 sprigs rosemary, leaves stripped from stems
    1/2 cup olive oil


    Heat the butter in your biggest pot. When melted, add the shallots. Cook for 2-3 minutes over medium heat, stirring. Add the mushrooms and stir to coat with the butter. Turn the heat to high, and continue to sauté for several more minutes, until mushrooms begin to soften. Pour in the wine, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Allow the wine to reduce by half.

    Then, add the broth or water. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add the pearl barley and salt, and reduce to a rapid simmer. Simmer 40 minutes to an hour, until barley is cooked through.

    While soup is simmering, whirl the rosemary leaves and olive oil in a blender or food processor. You have two options—process until smooth, or just pulse it a few times to chop up the leaves (I chose the latter).

    When the soup is finished, ladle into bowls and drizzle spoonfuls of the rosemary oil over the top. Serve with crusty bread (next time, I think I might try parmesan toasts…)

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