Wild Mushroom Minestrone
“Minestone” usually refers to Italian soups featuring tomato, vegetables, beans and pasta. They vary from household to household but traditionally feature a diverse mix of vegetables, no one more important than any other. This minestrone focuses on fresh wild mushrooms, inviting you to select your own from among such irresistible candidates as morels, chanterelles, enoki, cèpes (porcini), hen-of-the-woods and black trumpets. Choose one to emphasize its unique flavor, or use a mix for a more complex result. If you wish to purchase a store-bought mushroom stock and use it in place of the chicken stock, it would of course amplify the soup’s theme even further.
- Coarse salt
- 4 ounces ditalini pasta
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling on the soup
- ½ cup diced onion
- ¼ cup diced celery
- ¼ cup diced carrot
- 8 ounces mixed wild mushrooms
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
- ½ cup canned whole tomatoes, drained and chopped
- 3½ cups chicken stock
- 1 bouquet garni (1 bay leaf, 5 parsley sprigs and 2 thyme sprigs wrapped in a cheesecloth bundle and tied with kitchen twine)
- Scant ½ cup cooked Great Northern beans (from ⅓ cup dried beans)
- 1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley
- 2 tablespoons chopped basil
- Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain the pasta, transfer it to a bowl, and toss it with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil (to keep the pasta from sticking to itself.)
- Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot set over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and carrot and sauté until softened but not browned, 6 minutes. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and raise the heat to high. Cook for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, stock and bouquet garni. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered for 25 minutes.
- The soup can be made to this point, then cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days. Wrap and refrigerate the beans and pasta in separate containers; let them come to room temperature before proceeding. Reheat the soup gently.
- Add the beans and pasta to the pot, and cook until warmed through, approximately 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir the parsley and basil into the soup.
- To serve, ladle the soup into individual warmed bowls, taking care to be sure each bowl has a good balance of vegetables and liquid. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and serve at once.
Flavor Building: The fresh mushrooms can be replaced by ½ ounce dried porcini, soaked in ½ cup hot water for 20 minutes, drained and chopped. Fresh sage, summer savory, lemon thyme or marjoram can replace the basil and parsley. Finish the soup with a grating of pecorino romano cheese, a drizzle of porcini oil or white truffle oil or a shaving of black truffle. Add the rind of a piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano to the soup while it simmers.