The nights are longer, the weather is crisp and rainy − time for soup. This creamy mushroom soup is quick and easy, a perfect first course to a hearty beef stew. It's worth finding dried wood ear mushrooms (also known as tree ear or cloud ear) for a garnish. I found a 3-oz. package of dried cloud ear mushrooms at a Mediterranean market. Use 1 or 2 of the larger pieces as they really expand when simmered in the soup.
2 T. butter
1 c. sliced shallots
1 T. very thinly sliced garlic (or use a vegetable peeler)
1-1/2 T. flour
4 c. chicken stock, heated
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 pound button mushrooms, washed and coarsely chopped
1-2 pieces dried cloud ear mushroom
1/3 c. sliced almonds, toasted for a few minutes on top of the stove or in the oven until lightly browned
1 c. half 'n half
Heat the butter in a saucepan over medium heat and add the shallots and garlic. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes or until softened. Add the flour and stir well for about a minute, then stir in the hot stock, salt, and pepper and bring to a boil.
Add the mushrooms to the stock with a few pieces of the dried cloud ear mushroom. Bring back to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes. After about ten minutes, remove the cloud ear mushroom, let it cool, then slice in strips to use as a garnish when the soup is done.
When the soup is done, use an immersion blender to puree the soup to a creamy consistency. You can make the soup ahead at this point. When ready to serve, heat the soup, add the half 'n half, stir, and bring back to a boil. Take off the heat and ladle into bowls. Garnish with some of the cloud ear mushroom strips and sliced almonds on top.
– Jacques Pépin, "Fast Food My Way"