Wet feet in the wintertime is the absolute worst, but snow soup makes trudging through the snow semi-worth it, especially when mom is involved.
This recipe is inspired by my mom, who miraculously raised me and lived through it. She lives four hours away, and growing up I remember she always had time to make me breakfast before work. My favorite omelette was always had Pennsylvania Dutchman canned mushrooms, American cheese and onions. On cold mornings, I remember laying on the yellow linoleum kitchen floor by the heater under the cabinets while mom was at the stove, and the combination of onions, mushrooms and cheese has remained one of my favorites ever since.
When it’s cold and snowy outside and the world is harsh and bright, warm and cozy soups are my deepest comforts. Folding warm laundry while they simmer away, billowing rich, earthy steam throughout the kitchen and promising long-stewed and hearty satisfaction after hours of watching the world turn white outside, with sleepy dogs on the couch — there’s no better way to pass the time.
Mom was usually watching General Hospital or Days of Our Lives while I learned to pair socks, back in the day. She also taught me how to make my second favorite soup: French Onion.
The simplicity and grace of a well-made French Onion cannot be matched, which is why I didn’t try. The rich and warming allium broth with melt-in-your-mouth onions and bunches of thyme served as inspiration for one of my go-tos that I drench handfuls of Vermont cheese and dunk Trent’s bread in.
Snow soup is a slow-cooked mushroom and onion soup that, ideally, begins days ahead of time, but only if you’re a diehard and like to make your own broth. It makes all the difference in the world in the final product. Boxed broth works in a pinch, but it really doesn’t even begin to compare to the final product when you’ve roasted and stewed your own bones.
Long marrow bones can be found at the grocery store and work just fine, but I prefer the giant knucklebones you can get at on-farm operations like Blackmore Farm in Georgia. As you stew the knuckles, the fat, collagen and sinews melt away into a rich, flavorful broth that tempts the tongues of angels.
Once you get home from work, take your bones (enough to fill a large crock pot — usually three long marrow bones or two beef knuckles) and bring them to room temperature. Generously salt them and roast them in the oven at 450 degrees until golden brown, about 25 minutes.
Place the roasted bones in a large crockpot before you go off to work in the morning (or evening) and cover with water. Cook on high for at least nine hours, or until the bones come out clean. There should be bits of cartilage and meat in the broth that haven’t dissolved — if you like gristle, they’re delicious additions to the soup.
Once your stock is made, set it aside and seek out your favorite cast iron pot or Dutch oven.
Get the laundry going right around now.
Slice four sweet, locally-grown onions and two large shallots and toss them in the pot with two tablespoons or so of duck fat. The duck fat we have is concentrated from a duck purchased at Taste of Asia market in Burlington and roasted in the oven. The cooled drippings make an excellent butter. If you don’t have duck fat, Vermont Creamery cultured butter is a fine substitute.
Generously salt the onions and shallots to sweat them. Salt removes the water from the alliums, softens them and reduces their size — 2 tablespoons should do it. Stir to disperse the salt, and then select your daytime show. Law and Order is my go-to.
Let the onions slowly melt away, softening and caramelizing until glossy, and stir with a wooden spoon occasionally to prevent crisping. Once the onions have softened but not caramelized, add your mushrooms — lots of mushrooms. I add two sliced King Oyster mushrooms, four large brown baby bella mushrooms, roughly two cups of enoki mushrooms and sometimes straw mushrooms, but I try to keep it at a 1:1 mushroom and onion ratio.
Stirring in the mushrooms will help add moisture to the onions, so I can return to Detective Benson.
Once the onions have turned translucent and the mushrooms a shiny, soft gold color, crack a bottle of semi-dry red and a bottle of a dark porter: you’re going to get the soup nice and tipsy. Pour half the bottle of red and the bottle of porter into the sauteing onions and mushrooms and add two bay leaves, six sprigs of fresh thyme, three heaping tablespoons of chopped garlic, a teaspoon of honey, and salt and pepper to taste.
Leave your stew to cook off the alcohol and reduce until thick, dark and simmering. I usually reduce by at least half before I add in my stock — the flavors meld and melt together, bleeding the essence out of the herbs and thickening the onion caramel, making for a silky, luscious relish in need of thinning out.
Which is exactly what we do next: take your bone broth and thin your stew, making sure to get all of the coagulated collagen and fat that settles at the top of your broth to make the stew as rich as can be. I like to add as much stock as I can so I can reduce it down and condense the flavors, which makes for a filling bowl that, often, puts me right to sleep on the couch beside the dogs.
Once my stew is rich, thick and shining with fat, I ladle a healthy portion into a mug I can cozy up with, top with grated Neighborly Farms Sage Cheddar cheese and a little salt, Trent’s bread toasted for dunking, and pour myself onto my laundry-covered sofa with a glass of wine. The combination of the earthy thyme, bright garlic, rich wine and bone broth, the depth of the mushrooms and the lusciousness of the melted cheese makes for a simple but wholly extravagant dish. It is an easy, malleable and satisfying stew, and will top your list for winter dishes to make on a snowy afternoon when the weather outside is frightful.
I haven’t made this for my mom yet, but I think she would approve.
Kate Barcellos is a culinary enthusiast and reporter who lives in fear of okra and canned spaghetti.