Continuing our trip around the world with friends, we next stop in Marseille, on the southeast coast of France, to where we have traveled from Spain by train. There we encounter a small restaurant that has created a velvety-smooth mushroom soup that is dressed with a “salad” of ingredients also found in the soup. It is not your mother’s mushroom soup, or anything like that concentrated product from the soup giant. This soup has a sophisticated and complex flavor that is at the same time subtle and earthy, touched as it is by fresh raw mushrooms that bathe shortly in finished soup as you partake. Try this one yourself. It is simple and elegant.
The soup is a true French creation: it’s made with champignons de Paris, or what we know as plain white or button mushrooms, and it’s inspired by a soup from the Paris bistro, Les Papilles (whose name means taste buds). At the little restaurant, the soup comes to the table in a big tureen, and you’re encouraged to dip the ladle into it as often as you like.
At Les Papilles, shallow soup plates are brought to the table sans soup but with a small mushroom “salad”: thin slices of raw mushrooms seasoned with salt, pepper, chopped chives, and parsley and topped with a tiny bit of crème fraîche. When the hot soup is poured over the salad, the mushrooms cook just slightly. You’ll get to enjoy that nice contrast between the cooked soup and the raw vegetable.
The name champignons de Paris is more honorific than correct these days. While the mushrooms did get their start near Paris — Louis XIV had them in the gardens at Versailles — they were found growing in the catacombs beneath Paris when construction for the metro began, today the mushrooms are ubiquitous in America, but they are grown all over Chester county right next to us here in Lancaster, and they are likely fresher here than almost anywhere else. I believe we could just as easily call this Fresh and Local Mushroom Soup, as all the ingredients–right down to the butter and yogurt–can (and ought to be) locally sourced.
French Mushroom Soup
For the soup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1½ large onions, coarsely chopped
3 large garlic cloves, split, germ removed, and coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1½ pounds white mushrooms, wiped clean, trimmed, and sliced
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 parsley sprigs
1 rosemary sprig
6 cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons French cognac
For the “salad”
6 large white mushrooms, wiped clean and trimmed
2 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
Plain Greek yogurt, for serving
To make the soup: Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large Dutch oven or soup pot over low heat. Toss in the onions and garlic, season with salt and white pepper, and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Add the mushrooms and the remaining tablespoon of butter, raise the heat to medium, and cook, continuing to stir, for another 3 minutes or so, until the mushrooms release their liquid. Increase the heat to high and cook until almost all of the liquid evaporates. Pour in the wine and let it boil until it, too, almost evaporates.
Toss the herbs into the pot, add the broth or water (and the bouillon cubes, if you’re using them), and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover the pot almost completely, and cook at a gentle simmer for 20 minutes. Pull out the rosemary sprig (it will have lost its leaves). Add the cognac.
Working in small batches in a blender or food processor, puree the soup until it is very smooth; or use an immersion blender. If you’re using a processor or an immersion blender, you probably won’t get a super-smooth soup. If you’d like, you can push the pureed soup through a strainer, but it’s really not necessary. Taste for salt and white pepper. Pour the soup back into the pot and heat it gently — it shouldn’t boil, but it should be very hot.
To make the salad and serve: Divide the mushrooms, scallions, parsley, and chives among six soup plates; season lightly with salt and white pepper. Ladle the soup into the bowls, and top each with a dollop of crème fraîche, if desired.
Arrange the salad in shallow bowls. Bring the dressed bowls to the table and ladle the soup from a tureen or soup pot into the bowls. Finish the soup with a spoonful of crème fraîche or plain Greek yogurt and sprinkle a bit of freshly chopped parsley over the top.
The soup can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days or packed airtight and frozen for up to 2 months.