Monks of Monadhliath Mushroom Soup

Hildegard of Bingen had very definite ideas about mushrooms.  As have many other people throughout history, from ancient Egypt to the 1960s and beyond.  Readers of The Blue Bells Chronicles may remember the incident of the blessed knife.

“They’re very ascetic.” She jumped back into the topic. “Small and private, even today. They copy manuscripts by hand, pray, and farm everything they need. They’re strict vegetarians, probably as a result of the blessed knife.
“Which was what?” Amy asked.

“Columba blessed a knife, somewhat absent-mindedly, while he wrote.” Helen’s piercing clicked on her teeth as she spoke, drawing Amy’s attention with its rhythm. “Only later did he ask if it would harm man or beast. When the monks said it was for slaughtering animals, he put a blessing on it, that it would never harm men or cattle. They found the poor butcher boy outside, struggling with all his might to kill a cow for the monks’ dinner. Columba’s blessing prevented him doing so. “So they melted it down and used the metal to coat farm tools, so no one would be harmed by them. And believe it or not, this relates to the crucifix.”

The Water is Wide
Book Three of The Blue Bells Chronicles

The incident of the blessed knife is as reported in the life of Columba.  For this reason, the Monks of Monadhliath eat only fruits, vegetables, and grains to this day.  In searching for something they might serve to Simon--who I can assure you was not very pleased with their fare--I came across this mushroom soup, which I can't wait to try. 

First, make gnocchi.

  • 8 ounces ricotta cheese (after draining)—the more expensive kind, with only milk and salt as ingredients, at most an acid or natural culture.
  • 1 ounce finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 whole egg + 1 egg yolk
  • 4 ounces all purpose flour
  • a pinch of salt
  1. Drain the ricotta by pressing it between paper towels
  2. Mix in cheese, eggs, flour, and salt
  3. On a lightly floured surface, pat the dough into a rectangle and divide it into four quadrants.
  4. Roll each of these quadrants into very long thin rolls
  5. Cut the rolls into sections about an inch long each
  6. Dust the gnocchi with semolina flour
  7. Drop into boiling water
  8. Stir and let them boil for about 2 to 3 minutes, until they’ve been floating for about a minute
  9. Remove them and put them in ice water to make them firm
Now that you have fresh gnocchi, here's the soup:
  • 9 ounces fresh chanterelle mushrooms
  • 9 ounces fresh crimini mushrooms
  • 18 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
  • 6-1/4 cups vegetable stock
  • 8 sprigs of thyme
  • 10 ounces  fresh gnocchi
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons of oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 leek
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 cup  red wine
  • shavings of truffles
  • salt
  • pepper
  • parsley
  • 1 scallion
Note that the modern recipe calls for port wine and truffle oil.  Truffle oil is a modern, synthetic concoction designed to give the flavor of truffles.  And port wine as we know it did not exist (to our knowledge) in medieval Scotland. 

Therefore, I have given the Monks red wine for their mushroom soup and changed the truffle oil to a sprinkling of truffle shavings.  Note, however, that I am a graduate of the Cooking with Shawn Academy and firmly believe in making things up as I go.  You may want to wait until I make this at home and report on it--and that I'm still living and in good health!  (Really, though, how can you go wrong with red wine?)

Here's what you do with all of that:
  1. Soak porcini mushrooms in water for 1 hour.
  2. Clean chanterelle and crimini mushrooms and put into pot with vegetable stock and thyme.
  3. Cook until the mushrooms soften (approx. 10 minutes).
  4. Remove the mushrooms from the pot and slice them (Set the stock aside.).
  5. Saute diced onion and leek in the butter and oil.
  6. Drain porcini mushrooms, saving the water in which they soaked.
  7. Squeeze fluid from the porcini mushrooms and slice them.
  8. Add all mushrooms to the onion saute; simmer for 15 minutes.
  9. Add crushed garlic cloves, porcini mushroom liquid, and red wine; simmer 5 more minutes.
  10. Pull thyme sprigs from the vegetable stock and add to the saute.
  11. Simmer until stock is hot; season with salt and pepper
  12. Strain the gnocchi, divide it into bowls and ladle the hot soup over them.
  13. Top with truffle shavings, finely sliced scallion, and parsley.
This is my somewhat altered version of a recipe found at Eat Like a Teutonic Knight.  But the truth is, the Monks of Monadhliath would likely have served this with whatever vegetables the cook had available, or needed to use up, or felt like adding.  

When my kitchen is better (it's in the process of some much-needed fixing-up right now), I'll probably try this both with strictly medieval foods--trying a variety of vegetables which may have grown in the gardens of Monadhliath--and also with the more modern port wine.


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