A pantry-friendly mushroom soup recipe that came out of the blizzard

A pantry-friendly mushroom soup recipe that came out of the blizzard

It was in the middle of a snowstorm and I had to cook.

Not for myself or my family, but for a friend recovering from a hospital stay; I had signed up for a meal-train plan, my turn had come, and the unpaved roads meant I couldn’t get to the grocery store. My only choice: use my fridge and pantry, get creative.

I know this wouldn’t excite everyone, but it did me. A chance to play!

Let me stop here and admit how privileged I am to be able to afford to keep my home stocked with food. For many people, the question is not what to do with all the stuff they have; it’s about getting by with very little. I know because I’ve been there myself – and I’m thankful I’m not there now.

Get the recipe: Soup with mushrooms, beans and couscous

I try not to take for granted that I can almost always go to the store and buy more food, even when I don’t really need to. But the truth is, I often fall prey to my own desires and the desires of my husband and teenager, which means that even though we may have a great chili or casserole cooking at home, if the kid feels like pizza, I usually pick up what I need to make a pizza – or order one.

This time, that was out of the question, so I had to pretend I was on Chopped, competing against no one but myself.

The request was for a satisfying meal with a good balance of vegetables and protein. Shopping in my pantry, I quickly realized that I had a mushroom soup cooking. Fresh produce was a bit scarce, but years ago, my husband had bought me several bags of beautiful dried porcini mushrooms that I hadn’t touched. I had onions and garlic, as always, and some pasta and nuts. Fregola, the pearl-sized toasted couscous from Sardinia, would gain weight during rapid cooking. A quart-sized jar of navy beans I’d cooked the day before (of course I did!) sat in the fridge, ready to add bulk, protein and, thanks to the cooking liquid, flavor and silky texture.

My spice drawer is full of flavor enhancers. I dug into a bag I didn’t even remember buying, of dried Sicilian peppers, and a vague memory of a friend returning from a trip began to take shape. (When your career revolves around food, friends and colleagues bring you all kinds of little edible souvenirs.)

I loved how the soup came together, but I’m also lucky that I know how to cook. If I had to look for a recipe that fit all my criteria, it would take me more time to find all the substitutes than just making up the flavor as I went, tasting and adjusting and using the bounty that many I often don’t rate it as generous.

For you, I’ve taken the guesswork and gotten specific. I based this recipe on my snowy day in the kitchen, as I adapted it to use not the exact things I had in my pantry that day, but what you probably have in yours—or what you can easily get. I’m not going to ask you to hunt down dried Sicilian red peppers just to make this soup. Instead, since those peppers were sweet and not spicy, in further tests I successfully made them with sun-dried tomatoes. Dry porcini mushrooms mail order from my husband at a good wholesale price would cost a lot at a grocery store if you could find them, so I used some mushroom powder (which I highly recommend as a super- powerful pantry staple, and which you can grind yourself if needed) plus fresh mushrooms. Fregola became pearl couscous (and it could be any other hearty grain).

The most important thing about the soup is this: As soon as our roads were plowed, I took it to my friend’s townhouse in time for dinner, and it helped her and her family get another night without having to worry about the food. I hope it can do the same for you.

Get the recipe: Soup with mushrooms, beans and couscous

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