Oh How I Love Wheat

Posted by Robert on March 10th, 2014


I grew up mainly Methodist in a mostly Baptist world.

I was raised in a neighborhood that was filled with Protestants. In my little notch of the Bible Belt, there were a few Jewish families scattered about, but the Hillendale section of Hattiesburg was as WASPy as any neighborhood could be. Nevertheless, I had more friends that were Jewish than Catholic. I knew more about bar mitzvahs than I did mass. I don’t think I knew any Catholics until I was in college.

As a kid I was in Main Street Methodist Church whenever the doors were open— Sunday school, Sunday morning worship Sunday evening worship, Methodist Youth Fellowship meetings, Wednesday night covered dish suppers, and skating in the fellowship hall on Saturday mornings. It was a very Wesleyan existence.

I knew all of the liturgy by heart, and could recite the Apostle’s Creed before I was in kindergarten. I was a dyed-in-the-casserole Methodist, yet I don’t remember ever giving up anything for Lent.

I can remember sermons during Lenten season, I knew the word “Lent,” and I am sure there were people in my church who gave up stuff for Lent, I just never paid much attention to it, and I guess no attention was ever drawn to it. I grew up thinking that giving up something for Lent was a “Catholic thing.”

It is a fact that there was no fasting going on in my house as a kid. I don’t remember any fasting in my church either. Fasting was one of those things “other people” do. We stocked up on casseroles 52 Wednesdays a year.

I love my Catholic friends and found a new appreciation for that denomination during my travels in Europe. Maybe that is why I recently started to practice a form of fasting during the Lenten season.

Though this whole fasting-during-Lent concept is new to me. My initial brush with it was probably more of a join-the-movement gesture than anything else. Now I take it seriously. Though I will be the first to admit that I don’t know a whole lot about other people’s fasting practices during Lent, and today— as a multi-blended denominational type guy— I just give something up and let other people worry about all of the rules.

I had an in-depth Lenten conversation with a friend last week. He was griping about all of the people who give up something for Lent and then go around talking about what they are sacrificing for the next 40 days. I wasn’t sure if that was aimed at me or not. Yet here I am squawking about Lent for tens of thousands to read in a newspaper. So whether he was aiming that at me, or not, it probably applies. Guilty. Move on.

I am sure that it is written somewhere that a Lenten fast is a private practice that should be kept low key. Again, I am new to the practice of “giving up” something, so I will forge ahead with this column.

Last year I gave up something that wasn’t very consequential. As a matter of fact it was so inconsequential I can’t even remember what I gave up. This year I don’t have that problem. This Lenten season I decided to “go big” as my son would say. I gave up wheat.

For those who know me that is HUGE! I love wheat and everything that is made with wheat. A chocolate fast or meat fast would be kids play. Try giving up bread or pasta or cereal or pancakes or fried chicken or pizza or cookies or cakes or croissants. Did I mention pizza? You would be amazed at the food items that have wheat in them.

Technically, I guess you could say that I am gluten-free until Easter. Though that’s really not so bad these days as there are a lot of products that are gluten free. We offer a gluten-free menu at our Italian concept, Tabella, and it has been growing in popularity for the past two years. Grocery stores have several options for wheat-free/gluten-free products.

So typically this column would be filled with one long angry outburst about how I miss wheat. But since there are options out there and since my friend cleverly admonished me for talking about my Lenten fast, and since I am at pseudo peace with the world during this fast, I’ll just leave you with this one thought— hurry Easter.


Porcini Mushroom Soup

This is actually my version of a mushroom soup I ate in Lyon, France. But since I use porcinis I think of it as an Italian soup. Especially since there’s no heavy cream.

3 quarts            Mushroom stock, heated
8 TB                        Unsalted butter, divided
¼ cup                        All-purpose flour
¼ lb.                        Dry porcini mushrooms (soaked and reserved from the mushroom stock recipe)
½ cup                        Shallots, minced
2 TB                        Brandy
2 TB                        Kosher salt, divided
½ TB                        Ground white pepper
1 TB                        Fresh thyme, chopped
2 TB                        Sherry vinegar

In a one gallon stock pot, melt 4 TB of the butter over medium heat. Once melted, add the flour and whisk constantly to combine thoroughly and prevent scorching, about 2 minutes. Slowly add the heated mushroom stock 1 cup at a time, combining thoroughly each time until all the stock has been added. Continue to heat this on medium-low, stirring occasionally, until it has reduced to 2 quarts.

Meanwhile, melt the remaining 4 TB of butter over medium heat. Add the shallot and stir until softened, about 2-3 minutes. Add the mushrooms, 1 TB salt, white pepper and thyme and continue cooking for 6 minutes. Deglaze with the brandy and continue stirring until brandy has cooked out completely, about 3-4 minutes.

Transfer this mixture to a food processor and pulse for 1-2 minutes. Return to the pot with the reduced stock and bring to a simmer for 10 minutes. Puree this mixture until smooth with a stick blender or in the food processor. Finish with remaining 1 TB salt and the sherry vinegar.

Yield: 1 gallon




Mushroom Stock


¼ lb.                        Dried porcini mushrooms
2 lbs.                        Button mushrooms
1 sprig                        Fresh thyme
1 TB                        Black peppercorn
1 each                        Bay leaf
2 gallons            Water

Heat 2 cups of the water and soak the dried porcinis in it for 20 minutes. Strain water into a large stock pot and add the remaining ingredients, reserving the soaked mushrooms for another use.

Bring to a boil and reduce by half. Strain through a chinois, discard all solids.


Yield: 1 gallon










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