Barley Soup in the Style of TrentReading the recipes in Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking reaffirms a certain truth about Italian cooking: it’s a tangible, hands-on art, where you get your hands in there and feel it and taste it and smell it and absorb it. Olive oil, garlic, cheese, herbs. You’re a champion.

First, I made the “Barley Soup in the Style of Trent” (recipe below). And I’ve said this before: you can’t ruin barley. It’s wonderful every time. Here, I cooked my barley for 45 minutes, until it was “tender but not mushy.” The list of ingredients here may seem sparse, but the long simmer time creates a hearty, flavorful, super-thick stew (not really a “soup,” after all).

Barley Soup in the Style of Trent
Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, Marcella Hazan
Serves 4

1 1/4 cups pearl barley
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup proscuitto or pancetta or country ham or boiled unsmoked ham, chopped fine
1/2 tsp. dried rosemary leaves or 1 tsp. fresh chopped very fine
1 Tbsp. chopped parsley
1  medium potato
2 small carrots or 1 large
1 bouillon cube
Salt
Black pepper, ground fresh from the mill
2 to 3 Tbsp. freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

Put the barley in a soup pot, add enough water to cover by 3 inches, put a lid on the pot, bring to a slow, but steady simmer, and cook for 1 hour or until barley is fully tender but not mushy.

While the barley is cooking, put all the  oil and the chopped onion in a small skillet, and turn on the heat to medium. Sauté the onion until it becomes colored a pale gold, and add the chopped ham, cooking it for 2 to 3 minutes and stirring it from time to time. Add the rosemary and parsley, stir thoroughly, and after a minute or less, turn off the heat.

Peel both the potato and carrot, rinse in cold water, and dice them fine (they should yield approximately 2/3 cup each).

When the barley is done, pour the entire contents of the skillet into the pot, add the diced potato and carrot, the bouillon cube, salt, and several grindings of pepper. Add a little more water if the soup appears to be too dense. It should be neither too thick nor too thin. Cook at a steady simmer for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Off-heat, just before serving, swirl the grated cheese into the pot. Serve promptly.

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Baked Stuffed Mushroom CapsI also aced the somewhat lengthy recipe for Hazan’s “Baked Stuffed Mushroom Caps” (recipe below). CamilleCooks is tireless with stuffed mushrooms. I’ll never stop, I suppose (and yes, Thanksgiving’s coming!).

There are many steps here, but the recipe is easy to pace, the mushrooms are easy to assemble. Even with all the elements, the portions are indeed perfect, creating ideal “rounded mounds” atop each mushroom.

Baked Stuffed Mushroom Caps
Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, Marcella Hazan
Serves 6

A packet of dried porcini mushrooms or, if bought loose, about 1 oz.
1/4 heaping cup crumb (the fresh, soft, crustless part of bread)
1/4 cup milk
1 lb. fresh, stuffing (large) mushrooms
1/4 pound pancetta
4 flat anchovy fillets
4 fresh basil leaves, torn by hand into small pieces
A small garlic clove, chopped fine
1 egg
3 Tbsp. parsley chopped fine
1/8 tsp. dried marjoram or 1/4 tsp. chopped fresh
Salt
Black pepper, ground fresh from the mill
1/2 cup dried, unflavored bread crumbs
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Put dried mushrooms in 2 cups lukewarm water and let them soak for at least 30 minutes.

Put the soft crumb and milk together in a small bowl of deep dish and set aside to soak.

Wash the fresh mushrooms rapidly under cold running water, and pat them thoroughly dry with paper towels, taking care not to bruise them. Gently detach the stems without breaking the caps.

Line a wire strainer with a paper towel and place it over a small saucepan. Lift the porcini from their soak, but do not discard the liquid. Pour the liquid into the strainer, filtering it through the paper towel into the saucepan. Rinse the reconstituted porcini in several changes of cold water, making sure no grit remains attached to them. Add them to the saucepan and cook, uncovered, over lively heat until all the liquid has boiled away.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Chop the cooked reconstituted porcini, the fresh mushroom stems, the pancetta, and anchovy fillets all very fine. It can be done by hand or in a food processor.

Put all the above chopped ingredients in a mixing bowl, adding the basil leaves and chopped garlic. take the milk-soaked crumb into your hand, squeeze it gently until lit stops dripping, and add it to the bowl. Break the egg into the bowl. Add the parsley, marjoram, salt, and several grindings of pepper, and thoroughly mix all the ingredients in the bowl with a fork until they are combined into a smooth, homogeneous mixture. Taste and correct for salt and pepper.

Stuff the mushroom caps with the mixture from the bowl. Put enough stuffing into each cap to make a rounded mound. Sprinkle the mounds with bread crumbs.

Choose a baking dish that will accommodate all the mushroom caps side by side in a single layer. Smear the bottom and sides of the dish with a little of the olive oil. Put the mushrooms in the dish, stuffed sides facing up. Crisscross the mushrooms with a thin stream of olive oil, lightly daubing the stuffing.

Place the dish in the uppermost level of the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until the mounds of stuffing have formed a light crust. After removing from the oven, allow them to settle for several minutes before serving.

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Hazan says this recipe’s goal is to “transform the shy flavor of cultivated mushrooms.” So, she pulls out all the magic tricks, pumping up all the volume. She soaks dried mushrooms, then filters that soaking liquid and boils it away with those reconstituted mushrooms (liquid boils away in 15 minutes). She chops all the fresh mushroom stems with pancetta and anchovies (hello umami!). Yes, I used my food processor.

And keep going. Basil, garlic. Milk-soaked, fresh breadcrumbs squeezed dry in your fist. Egg, parsley, marjoram, which smells like flowers. One tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. black pepper. Oh and olive oil. Never be stingy with olive oil.

Quite an exercise. At the finish line, you’ll enjoy intense, meaty mushrooms. All will approve.

PRICES:
Pancetta (6 oz.) = $12.10
Yukon Gold Potato (1) = .87¢
Carrot (1) = .36¢
Dried Mushrooms (1 oz.) = $3.15
Mushrooms (1 lb.) = $3.32

PREP TIMES: dedicate at least 90 minutes to the barley soup; don’t rush the mushrooms -- give a few hours to the soaking and the chopping and the stuffing and the baking
TASTES:
hearty barley pairs with rosemary and the smooth backup of potato and carrot; mushrooms stuffed with mushrooms, drizzled with fireworks

Next time, I’ll cook the “Cockles with Beans & Cherry Tomatoes in Garlic Broth,” from the August 2015 issue of Food & Wine, along with the “Lemon-Thyme Muffins,” from the October 2015 issue of Cuisine at Home (recipe below). Come back next week, to see what happens.

Lemon-Thyme Muffins with Gruyère
Cuisine at Home, October 2015
Makes 12 muffins

Whisk:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. minced fresh thyme
2 Tbsp. minced lemon zest
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 cup shredded Gruyère

Mix:
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup olive oil
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick spray; set aside.

Whisk together flour, thyme, zest, baking powder, salt, pepper, and baking soda in a large bowl. Stir in Gruyère; form a well in the center.

Mix sour cream, oil, and eggs in a measuring cup with a pour spout until eggs are lightly beaten; pour into well of dry ingredients and stir just until combined.

Scoop batter into muffin cups with a generous #20 (1/4 cup) scoop.

Bake muffins until a toothpick inserted into centers comes out clean, 22-25 minutes. When pan is cool enough to handle, turn muffins out of cups onto a rack to cool completely.