A Golden Feast

My boyfriend and I entertained for his mother this Christmas Eve. His mother is a vegetarian, which created a new challenge for me as the primary cook. The first course was a Porcini Mushroom and Chestnut Soup; the main course was a generous portion of baked smoked sable fish with roasted ciopolini onions, beats, and fingerling potatoes; the dessert was a Kahlua chocolate fondue served with fresh pineapple, strawberries and panatone. Absolutely decadent! The possible future mother-in-law was very impressed and satisfied, which made both my boyfriend and I equally content. The Porcini Mushroom and Chestnut Soup was the golden dish, quite literally, as it won the Gold Metal Plate Awards in 2007.

Local Chef Pino Posteraro of Cioppino's Mediterranean Grill won with this delicious soup and after making it at home it isn't hard to believe! Its texture is pure velvet in your mouth with a richness from the chestnuts and warm earthiness from the porcini mushrooms. My boyfriend's mother said it best, "This is simply the best soup I've had. It's delicious! It's like the ultimate cheesy vegan soup." Being entirely vegan (if you don't have the croutons), you would never know it. It tastes like it's laden with cream and rich meat stock. For this very reason I am sharing this luscious recipe with you. I highly recommend making it as it appeals to every palate and is very easy to make. The recipe is found on page 74 of his first cookbook Cioppino's Mediterranean Grill.

Porcini Mushroom and Chestnut Soup with Black Olive Croutons

35 mL extra-virgin olive oil
150 g chopped mixed onions, celery and leaks
250 g fresh porcini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced [I used dried porcini mushrooms they worked just as well shh don't tell the Chef!]
2 russet potatoes, cubed
80 g chestnuts, shells removed [you can buy them prepared in jars from Famous Foods]
1.25 L mushroom [or vegetable] stock, boiling

50 g black olive bread, cubed
4 mL clarified butter, melted
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling

Heat olive oil in a saucepan on high heat. Add onions, celery and leeks and cook for 10 minutes, until vegetables are wilted and slightly glazed. Add mushrooms, potatoes and chestnuts and cook for 15 minutes. Add mushroom (or vegetable) stock and simmer for about 35 minutes. Allow the soup to cook slightly , then transfer to a blender or food processor and purée until smooth. Strain through a chinois. Add more salt or pepper, if necessary.

Preheat the oven to 260°C. In a small bowl, toss bread cubes with butter. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes, or until crispy.

To Serve: Ladle hot soup into individual bowls. Garnish with croutons and drizzle liberally with olive oil.

Serves 8 . Preparation time: 1 1/4 hours
Suggested wine: Lodano 2004, Tua Rita, IGT, Tuscany Italy