I think I’ve made clear my feelings about New Year’s rituals, particularly the odious habit of encouraging the making of doomed-to-failure resolutions. Without doing any such thing, I can still understand the impulse to consciously dial things back for the next couple of weeks, just to balance your system back out after all the holiday crapulence. That’s always how I feel come January 2nd, which is why our first homemade meal on coming home from our travels was a very simple, gentle and nurturing soup of mushrooms and barley.
His Lordship and I both come from food-loving families and cultural traditions, so you can well imagine the levels of excess that were reached during the ten days we were among them for the holidays. At several points, one or both of us swore we were going to fast for a week from the minute we got on the plane. On top of that, we came home to temperatures that can be described with sincerity as arctic. It was (and still is) painfully freezing, with the kind of windchill-enhanced lows that suck all the moisture from every inch of exposed skin the minute you step out the door and make your lungs hurt with the very first breath you take.
This soup is easy to pull together from a mostly-bare cupboard, and will do your overloaded digestive system and your chilled limbs good. It should also serve as a competent place-holder until I put up a new lentil recipe, in keeping with the one start-of-the-year tradition I seem to have established.
Mushroom Barley Soup
Serves 4 as a main course, or 6 as a first course
1/4 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, reconstituted in 1 cup boiling water
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
3 ribs celery, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced in thin half-moons
8 ounces button mushrooms, quartered and sliced
1 cup pearl barley
5 cups vegetable stock
1 rind from a smallish piece of parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat and add the onion, celery and carrots, plus a pinch of salt, and cook until the vegetables begin to wilt. Lift the porcini out of their soaking liquid and roughly chop, reserving the liquid. Add the porcini and button mushrooms and continue cooking until everything begins to caramelize. Add the barley to the mixture and cook for several more minutes to toast it.
Deglaze the pan with the porcini soaking liquid, thoroughly scraping up the brown bits from the bottom. Add the stock, parmesan rind, thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook until the barley is tender, 30-45 minutes.
Taste and correct for salt and pepper as needed. Discard the bay leaf and parmesan rind before serving the soup.
The barley will continue soaking up liquid in the fridge, so you will probably have to add a bit of hot water to the leftovers before reheating the next day.
The cheese rind might seem a strange choice, but it adds depth of flavor and makes full use out of a pricey ingredient.