Winter Warmth: Mushroom Barley Soup

Mushroom Barley Soup with Parsley and Grated Pecorino Romano
Goodbye 2010. Hello 2011. Hope you are all having a happy new year. I am excited about some of my new resolutions-- nothing too ambitious and all very manageable. Other than the regular self-improvement stuff (no need to post), this year I want to:

* work on my technical photography skills (take a class) and learn photoshop
* expand my culinary horizons- work on Vietnamese, Indian, Mexican, Thai and Sichuan
* lead at least two historic walking tours
* read one book every three weeks
* learn how to grill in our new outdoor space

Now for those of you wondering why there haven't been any new posts recently, well, we moved...the day of the massive blizzard. It was a mess. There was little time for homemade apps, soups or sauces. And I wasn't sure where our camera was anyway. I am happy to report that we have been reunited with all of our things that were stranded for more than a week in Prospect Heights. Hooray.

Though many of our belongings have been unpacked, we still haven't dug out our car and I haven't made my weekly Fairway run. You can imagine, then, how excited I was when Yana invited us over for dinner (we are neighbors). We had some fantastic eats, including spicy samosas and lentil donuts. But the best part of the meal was her mushroom barley soup topped with fresh parsley and grated pecorino. It's the perfect winter-weather-stuck-indoors sort of meal. With Yana's permission I am posting her recipe today. This is a real treat because Yana is my first 'guest blogger.'
So without further delay, here is Yana in her own words... 

Mushroom-Barley Soup Topped with Parsley and Grated Pecorino Romano
2-3 ounces of dried porcini mushrooms
A few tablespoons of olive oil
3 medium onions
3 ribs of celery
4 medium carrots
6 cloves of garlic
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
Handful of fresh parsley
2-3 tablespoons of tomato puree
8 cups of water or vegetable stock, or a combination
1 1/2 cups of barley
Fresh parsley and grated pecorino for garnish

We'll be moving soon, so I want to cook all the little bits and pieces that are in my fridge and cupboard so I don't need to move them! I was digging around in the bottom shelf of my pantry today and found a bag of dried porcini mushrooms from one of E's favorite places, the Atlantic Spice Company. I also had some barley and soup veggies in the fridge, so I was set.

The last time I cooked barley, I made a red wine and mushroom risotto and it was a bit of a disgrace! Basically, I wasted a lot of food and no one wanted to eat it. So I decided to do a bit of research and check out a few different recipes to find something truly lovely. I wasn't disappointed!

First, I used about 2-3 ounces of dried porchini mushrooms. This looked like about 1 cup of fried mushrooms, loosely packed. I soaked them in 2 cups of boiling water. We will use this water later, so don't pour it away!
In a large stock pot, I heated a bit of olive oil and lightly sauteed 3 medium onions, 3 ribs of celery, 4 medium carrots, 6 cloves of garlic with a hefty pinch of kosher salt and black pepper. I cooked it over a medium heat with the lid on till the veggies were slightly caramelized. I added a handful of parsley, chopped and stirred, then moved the veggies to the sides of the pot and dumped about 2-3 T of tomato puree in, and let it cook a bit. Brought the heat up to medium high, and mixed all together and let it cook a few minutes.

After the mushrooms have soaked for about 30 minutes, pour off the liquid through a sieve. Maybe use a cheesecloth or paper towel, as gritty bits tend to come off. Chop the mushrooms finely.

As the veggie and tomato paste mixture has been cooking a few minutes and getting super delicious, add the mushroom liquid. Bring it to a boil and mix well. Use an immersion blender to puree all the bits and make it thick and delicious, then add the chopped mushrooms. Add about 8 cups of water or stock. I used water and a bit of stock concentrate, better than beef bullion, veggie style. Add 1.5 cups of barley, bring to boil and cook at a low boil for 60-90 minutes, depending on how you like your barley. Add salt to taste.

Serve with a sprinkle of chopped parsley and I grated a bit of pecorino romano cheese on top.