I’m in a panic. Frost has hit hard just north of here, which means time is running out for fresh tarragon, my favorite herbaceous perennial. I’ve considered freezing little cubes of the leaves as some crafty folk do, but the freezer’s a black hole these days. Next best option is finding last-minute cooking opportunities like this creamy mushroom soup, whose earthy smoothness pairs well with tarragon’s licorice bite. And bonus, the soup does good things using mostly local ingredients. Recent posts from Fat of the Land and Skagit Foodshed show some of the luscious wild mushrooms you can find in the woods right now, if you’re willing to get a little muddy. Here in the thick of civilization, we buy dried porcini from Foraged and Found at the University District farmers market and just a smidge goes a long way.

Cream of Mushroom Soup with Tarragon

4-5 slices dried porcini / 1 tbls butter / 1 tbls lardo or salt pork minced, optional / ½ onion, minced / 1 clove garlic, minced / 1 lb fresh mushrooms, chopped / 6-8 sprigs thyme, leaves stripped / big pinch of flour / 3 cups stock or water / ¼ cup cream / salt & pepper / 2 tbls chopped tarragon

Soak dried porcini in hot water. When softened, chop reconstituted mushroom slices. Strain and reserve soaking liquid. Heat a heavy soup pot over medium heat and swirl in butter. When hot, add salt pork, onion and garlic, cooking until softened, 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and thyme. Cook, stirring, until mushrooms have given up most of their juice. Sprinkle in a big pinch of flour and stir, cooking for another minute. Add chopped porcini and soaking liquid plus stock or water. Boil, then turn down heat and cook on medium-low for 15 minutes, until flavors are combined. Transfer most of soup to a food processor and puree until smooth, then return to pot, or use a fancy immersion blender if you have one. Stir in cream, season with salt and pepper, and serve garnished with chopped tarragon leaves. Feeds 2-4, depending on appetites.

For an even heartier soup, substitute ¼ cup rice for the flour and cook for 25 minutes, until rice is tender.

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