The next time I noticed it was while I was in New Mexico. I THOUGHT I had a huge jar of dried boletus mushrooms, which (I might be wrong about this one) are the same as porcinis. They grow wild in the mountains, and at one time I had an entire jeep load of them. Literally. Anyway, it was the porcinis that made this soup stand out, and that big jar in the cabinet above the stove looked like the porcinis I used to have. Seeing it was like seeing that puppy just wagging it's tail and grinning. "OK! I'll do it!" I said to the dog.
I made a huge pot of it and invited some friends for dinner. I had a great artisan bread and some zinfandel, and while the soup was quite satisfying, it lacked that intensity I was expecting. Seems that the mushrooms were shitakes, and not porcinis. It's like finding out that you've got a Shih Tzu and not a Labradoodle. You were looking for the exotic, but wound up at the wrong breeder. Not bad, just not what you were looking for.
So when I got back to San Diego, we were still having our version of a cold snap, and I felt like I was on a mission. I was going to make this soup and this time I was going to get it right! I did. It turned out to be the perfect meal for a cold night - warm, rich, and inviting. The kind of meal you want to linger over with a friend, pouring another glass of wine and letting the conversation continue.
Mushroom Barley Soup
1/2 C. dried porcini mushrooms
8 oz. butter
1 very large onion or 2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
6 peeled and finely chopped garlic cloves
1 1/2 lbs. fresh mushrooms, trimmed and thinly sliced
4 stalks of celery with leaves, diced
3 big carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 C chopped parsley
2 T. flour
2 quarts beef broth
2 1/2 C barley, rinsed. (I think you should use 2 C at the most. I find the recipe heavy on barley)
2T. kosher salt
1. Soak dried mushrooms in 1 qt. hot water for 1 hour. Strain through a filter or cheesecloth. Reserve the water. Coarsely chop the dried mushrooms and set aside.
2. Melt butter in large pot over medium-high heat and saute onions and garlic until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the fresh mushrooms, celery, carrots and 4 T of parsley. Cook until the carrots are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the flour and stir until blended. Stir in the mushroom soaking liquid until blended, then stir in the beef broth and 6 C water. Stir in the barley, soaked mushrooms, 2 T salt and pepper to taste.
3. Heat the soup to boiling, stirring frequently, then lower the heat, cover the pot, and simmer for about 45 minutes or until the barley is tender.
4. Add the remaining parsley, mix thoroughly and add more water if the soup is too thick. Adjust seasonings if necessary.
Yeild: 12-16 servings.