This is the taste of the season, welcome on the chilly nights of spring. But if you have a heat wave, you can also eat this soup chilled.
As a New Englander, I love a chowder. But at this time of year, I’m not thinking clams or corn, but the beautiful greens of spring. Greens, potatoes, mushrooms, all the delights that can make a chowder special are available right now, but depending on luck, we often have to substitute and use what is local and what is best right now.
Substitutions are a part of life if you are trying to cook seasonally. I never hesitate to swap out just about anything from the onion family when I need to, or use whatever green I find that is the best at the farm stand.
Here I’ve used ramps, or wild leeks, but they can be hard to find, so you can use any lovely early baby green such as arugula or spinach available to you. Just double up on the leek for the soup base and add a couple of cloves of garlic if you have to substitute. Ramps have a natural garlic flavor.
If you can come by some fresh morels, of course use them as well. This is one wild mushroom that can be as elusive as fairy garden, so don’t hesitate to follow the recipe with dried morels, or another favorite dried mushroom. They make the best stock!
I’ve used coconut milk to make it both dairy free and vegan to accommodate my family, but you can use half-and-half if you like. I wouldn’t use a heavier cream, because the flavors of the season need to be clear and fresh; too much fat can dull the taste buds!
This recipe uses small fingerling potatoes, diced, but small red potatoes would be a good substitute. You want the potatoes to keep their shape.
We’ve used the pureed vegetables to thicken the soup, no need for a roux!
Ramp, Morel Mushroom, and Potato Chowder
- Large bunch of ramps, about 12 ounces
- 1 leek, sliced
- 1 bulb fennel, sliced
- 1 oz. dried morel mushrooms
- 1 quart water
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 tbsp. butter or substitute
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 star anise
- ¼ to ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
- Salt and pepper
- Few grates of nutmeg
- 1 lb. potatoes, diced
- 1 can light coconut milk
Prep the vegetables. Cut the bulbs and stems from the ramps and chop them up. Take half the leaves and chop them up as well, but leave the other half intact; they will be added at the end just to wilt. Slice the leek and the fennel thinly.
Bring the water to a boil and add the dried morel mushrooms. Let steep for a half to full hour. You will use both the mushroom stock and the mushrooms in the dish.
Heat the olive oil and butter in a soup pot until melted and shimmering. Add the ramp bulbs and stems, the leek, and the fennel. Sauté until nicely softened and fragrant, but do not let them brown.
Strain the stock from the mushrooms into the pot, and reserve the hydrated mushrooms for later.
To the soup pot, add the bay leaf, star anise, cayenne, salt and pepper to taste, and the nutmeg. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer about 20 minutes.
While the aromatics are simmering, cook the potatoes until just done but not too soft, you want texture. Drain, and reserve.
Once the aromatics are cooked, add the half of the ramp greens that are chopped up. Cook an additional five minutes, then remove the bay leaf and anise pods. Use an immersion blender to puree everything. You can also use a food processor or regular blender, in batches.
Once smooth, add the potatoes and the whole ramp greens. Let everyone get to know each other for about five minutes, then add the coconut milk and rehydrated mushrooms. Heat until the milk is warmed through. Taste and correct seasoning.
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