Patti Bess: Comfort foods of fall |

Patti Bess: Comfort foods of fall

Weather is not the only thing changing this time of year. Even though, it’s still warm enough to leave your jacket at home, my culinary time clock is clicking at its usual pace.

I’m actually getting bored with basil and tomatoes if that’s possible. Even if the weather isn’t changing that much, I am hungry for winter comfort foods — more hearty, bold-flavored dishes and the first soups of the season. Yesterday, I made an “End of Summer Soup.”

Sometimes I love the challenge of pulling together something edible, better yet, flavorful out of all the this and thats from the garden and/or refrigerator.

Soups also bring back wonderful memories of those years with my little “picky eaters.” I can still hear their voices whining, “Do we have to eat all the vegetables?”

“No, at least eat the broth and noodles if you want,” I’d say.

But of course, I was telling just a teeny fib. I blended some of the vegetables so that they would have to eat them.

They could maneuver that spoon around and around the bowl to catch broth and noodles and nary a vegetable.

Mothers have to win some of the battles even if it involves a teeny, tiny fib.

Those kids are old enough now that they welcome a hearty meal that they don’t have to fix.

Fall always brings on that longing for a good Mushroom Barley Soup.

This recipe I adapted from the original Moosewood cookbook from the 1970s. Over the years, I tried other recipes for this soup, but this is the easiest and always the best.

Sometimes it’s nice to add cooked white beans or maybe three cups of chopped chard or kale — blending it up, of course, if you’re trying to feed those little “picky eaters.”

If you don’t have a broth on hand, good quality cubes without MSG are available at natural foods stores or in the natural food department of your local grocery.

Stock really gives a soup its depth of flavor (as does serving it the second day).

One way that I do this easily is to add an extra whole carrot, a stalk of celery and maybe a potato to the cooking water for the barley. These can be removed later when the other vegetables are added.

Mushroom Barley Soup

¾ cup barley

7 cups stock or water

3 tablespoons butter or olive oil

3 to 5 cloves garlic, minced

1 large onion, finely chopped

3 stalks of celery, chopped fine

¾ pound mushrooms, sliced

1 large carrot, grated

Half a bunch of chard or kale (optional)

¾ to one teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons soy sauce

3 tablespoons sherry

2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice

Generous amount of fresh grated pepper

Cook the barley and ½ teaspoon salt in the water or stock in a large soup kettle until tender. (This is when you’d add the extra vegetables to remove later.)

Meanwhile, sauté the onions, garlic and celery in butter.

When they soften, add mushrooms and ½ teaspoon of salt.

When all is tender add to the barley, being sure to include the liquid the vegetables expressed while cooking. Add the grated carrots, sherry, soy sauce, lemon juice and chard if using. Give it a generous grinding of black pepper and simmer 20 minutes, covered, over the lowest possible heat.

Taste to correct seasoning. If your little “picky eaters” are involved, blend some of the broth and vegetables before serving.

Orzo, if you haven’t used it before, is a rice shaped pasta that cooks quickly. You can use it as a substitute for rice in a variety of dishes even risotto (orzotto).

Chicken and Orzo Stew

6 ounces, about a half package of Orzo

1 ½ teaspoons whole mustard seeds

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, about ¾ of pound, cut into thin strips

1 red onion, sliced thin

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 small apple, peeled and sliced thin

½ cup dry white wine

1 ½ cups chicken or vegetable broth

3 tablespoons fresh minced oregano or 2 teaspoons dried

1 bunch chard, coarsely chopped


Fresh ground pepper

Grated parmesan cheese

Cook the orzo according to package directions. Drain and place in a large serving bowl.

Meanwhile, place the mustard seeds in a skillet over medium heat.

Cook, shaking the skillet often, for two minutes, or until lightly browned and toasted.

Remove to the bowl with the orzo.

Generously salt and pepper the chicken. Heat the oil in a skillet to medium-high.

Add the chicken and onion; cook, stirring frequently, for five minutes, or until chicken is browned and onion is soft.

Add the garlic and cook two more minutes. Add the apple, wine, broth, oregano, and greens.

Cover and simmer for five minutes, stirring occasionally; or until the greens are wilted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add the orzo to each bowl; then spoon in the stew. Garnish with the Parmesan cheese if desired.

Makes about 3 to 4 servings.

Patti Bess is a local freelance writer and cookbook author. You can reach her for questions at

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