I’M PRETTY SURE there’s not much to say about comfort food during a global pandemic that hasn’t already been said in many, many other articles. A previously inconceivable topic, arguably already exhausted! What a world. But we’re getting into the darkness now, unthinkable months into this thing, and we still need all the comfort we can get.
At the moment, I’m lucky enough to be midway through the comforting task of gathering holiday-ish, family-style recipes from some favorite Seattle chefs for a story that will run in November. Melissa Miranda of Musang sent one that I won’t spoiler here except to say that it calls for, among other things, cream of mushroom soup, and that I can’t wait to try it. But just a little bit more: It’s her re-creation of one of her grandma’s recipes, and, she says, “Whenever I’m feeling sad or super nostalgic, I’ll make this dish.”
This reminded me of the time I decided to make cream of mushroom soup from scratch. Julia Child’s recipe called for straining the soup — something that conjured a crystal-clear image of my dad rolling his eyes — and also for egg yolks, which seemed odd. But mashed up with a couple random recipes courtesy of the internet (probably called Best-Ever Easy Homemade Cream of Mushroom Soup and Actually Best-Ever Etc.), it turned out extremely tasty. The mushroomy, rich smoothness of it gave me a definite twinge of nostalgia, which then turned on the million-watt light bulb of an idea to use it to make a Fancy Version of My Mom’s Tuna Noodle Casserole.
My mom laughed when I called to ask her for that recipe, because there really wasn’t one — she just told me the ingredients, to her recollection. Later, she recalled that she’d cribbed it from a slightly different casserole in an old Betty Crocker cookbook, which she got out and read me the introduction to: “Dear Friend, If you are a bride, business girl, career wife or a mother … this book is for you.” Thanks, Betty!
Anyhow, the soup is very good, and the casserole is so good that no person has ever had fewer than two servings — even weirdos who hate mushrooms love it. You can make the soup when you have a bit of time one day, then throw together the casserole the day after that, and I promise those will be two days of comfort and even, yes, joy during these dark times.
Best-Ever Easy Homemade Cream of Mushroom Soup
If you’re up to your eyeballs in chanterelles, lucky you, and any kind of fancy mushrooms would be excellent here, but basic button or cremini mushrooms also turn out very good. You could use your leftover parsley to make a little salad dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper for a counterpoint to the richness of the soup. And crummy croutons should be an actual crime — all you have to do to make delicious ones is fry some bread cubes in olive oil and butter (salt and pepper them, though, too). This makes about 4 to 6 servings, enough for a lunch or light supper for two, then to make The Fancy Version of My Mom’s Tuna Noodle Casserole.
- 1 lb. mushrooms, basic or fancy
- 7 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon dry sherry
- ½ cup yellow onion, minced
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 4 cups chicken stock (or substitute vegetable stock)
- A couple fresh bay leaves (or 1 dry one)
- Kosher salt
- ¼ cup heavy cream, plus more for drizzling (spring for organic if you can)
- Fresh Italian parsley, chopped (enough for garnish)
- Buttery homemade croutons (optional, but not very)
- Slice about 1 cup of the mushroom caps. Chop the rest of the caps and stems.
- Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add sliced mushroom caps and sauté until beginning to soften, just a few minutes; add a tablespoon of sherry and cook it off. Remove sliced mushrooms, and reserve — let any extra melted mushroomy butter stay in the pot!
- Add 4 more tablespoons of butter, the chopped mushrooms and the onion. Turn down to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are tender and the onion is getting translucent, about 8-10 minutes.
- Sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms and onion, then stir over medium-low heat for 3 minutes.
- Slowly add the chicken stock, stirring constantly. Bring to a simmer.
- Add the bay leaves plus a pinch of salt, then simmer over medium-low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it thickens a bit.
- Fish out the bay leaves. Puree the soup to smoothness of your liking with a hand-blender or in batches in a regular blender.
- Add in the cooked mushrooms, a teaspoon of sherry, and ¼ teaspoon salt, then slowly stir in the cream. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more salt, cream and sherry as necessary. Heat over very low for another 5 minutes or so.
- Serve hot, garnished with the parsley, a drizzle of cream and lots of buttery croutons.
The Fancy (But Still Very Easy) Version of My Mom’s Tuna Noodle Casserole
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook about 8 ounces of egg tagliatelle al dente. Cook about 1 cup of frozen organic petite peas just until plumped up and bright green (unless you have fresh shelled peas, though that’d be odd, as this is a cold-weather dish). Put these in a medium-size buttered casserole dish, along with about 1¾ cups Best-Ever Easy Homemade Cream of Mushroom Soup (substitute: one can organic cream of mushroom soup and ½ cup organic cream or half-and-half), 1 can of tuna packed in olive oil (drained and flaked with a fork), about 1 cup of grated Gruyère (substitute any cheese[s] you like), a dash of hot sauce, several grindings of black pepper and a sprinkle of Kosher salt. Stir to combine, then top with breadcrumbs and/or grated Parmesan. Bake 25-35 minutes; check for too-soupiness by sticking a knife to the bottom of the middle. Probably serves only two (maybe with leftovers) because people eat a lot of it — you might want to double.