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News / Life / Food

Tips to take a recipe from good to great

By Meredith Deeds, Star Tribune
Published: February 28, 2024, 5:58am

Imagine working hard on a dish for dinner. You’ve chopped, sliced, sautéed and simmered and the aroma of what will surely be a culinary masterpiece fills your home. Then you taste it. Is it good? Yes. Is it great? No.

While good is nothing to scoff at, it often takes very little effort to transform a dish into something great — if you know how to build the flavors.

I’m not talking about adding a lot of extra ingredients, although sometimes the addition of one or two helps. I’m talking about understanding those ingredients, as well as culinary techniques, and using them to layer and deepen the essence of a dish.

Making sure to adequately sear meat or toast spices can have a huge impact. Deglazing a pan or properly caramelizing onions is also key. Reducing liquid or adding a touch of acid instead of another pinch of salt can be instrumental in turning a flat, dull dish into a bright orchestra of flavors.

There are many, many ways to build flavor and, although I don’t use them all in this week’s Creamy Roasted Mushroom Soup, I do employ a few. This dish is a great illustration of how to take a basic recipe and transform it into something special by utilizing a few simple techniques and a couple of key ingredients.

One of those ingredients is dried porcini mushrooms. Dried porcinis are a powerhouse of nutty, woodsy mushroom flavor. By reconstituting them in hot water, you get to use the mushrooms as well as the soaking liquid, ensuring that you don’t miss a drop of mushroom goodness.

Of course, we don’t stop with dried mushrooms. We also use two kinds of fresh mushrooms, cremini and shiitake, which we slice and roast until their flavors have concentrated.

Next, we sauté shallots and garlic, and deglaze that pan with a little white wine, making sure to scrape up all the deliciously browned bits on the bottom.

All of these ingredients are then combined and allowed to simmer just long enough to marry their flavors before blitzing them into silky perfection in a blender and stirring in a generous dose of cream.

Seasoning is always a critical step in soup making. I often find myself adding a touch of this or that at the end, just to make sure I’ve adequately fine-tuned those flavors. In this case, because I’m looking to infuse as much umaminess as possible, I skip the extra salt in favor of a dash of soy sauce.

And, as I almost always do with soup, I add a touch of acid, in this case, lemon juice, at the end, which lifts up everything else in the pot.

The result is a soup packed with deep mushroom flavor that’s easy and quick enough to make on a weeknight, but memorable enough to serve at the most elegant of dinner parties.

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Creamy Roasted Mushroom Soup

Serves 4 to 6.

Roasting the mushrooms concentrates their flavor in this umami bomb in a bowl. Note: When pureeing hot liquid in a blender, remove the plastic insert in the lid and cover with a dish towel to prevent any steam buildup and splattering. From Meredith Deeds.

1/2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms

2 pound cremini mushrooms, cut into 1/4-in. slices

1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and discarded, caps cut into 1/4-inch slices

4 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for garnish

2 tablespoon unsalted butter

1/2 cup chopped shallots

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

3 sprigs fresh thyme

1/2 cup dry white wine

4 cup chicken or vegetable broth

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place the dried porcini mushrooms in a small bowl and cover with 1 cup boiling water. Let sit for 30 minutes. Use slotted spoon to remove the mushrooms from the water and coarsely chop. Strain the mushroom water through a coffee filter to remove grit. Reserve both mushrooms and water.

Meanwhile, divide sliced cremini and shiitake mushrooms evenly on 2 rimmed baking sheets, drizzle each pan with 2 tablespoons oil and season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and toss to coat. Spread out into one layer. Roast for 15 minutes. Switch positions of baking sheets and continue to roast for another 10 to 15 minutes, until lightly browned.

Heat butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic, thyme and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook for 30 seconds. Add wine and porcini mushrooms. Cook, scraping the brown bits off the bottom of the pan, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add reserved strained mushroom water, chicken or vegetable stock, soy sauce and three-quarters of the roasted mushrooms (reserving the rest for garnish) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Discard thyme sprigs.

Purée soup in two batches in blender (see Note) or with an immersion blender, until smooth. Return to pot, add cream and lemon juice and bring to simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Ladle into serving bowls and garnish with remaining roasted mushrooms and freshly ground black pepper and serve.