1. In a small bowl or cup, combine the
mushrooms with 1 cup of very hot tap water. Let them soak at least
20 minutes, or until you're ready to add to them to the soup. Alternately,
combine the mushrooms and tap water in a bowl or cup and microwave
on HIGH for 1 minute, then let stand 1 minute.
2. In a 4- to 6-quart pot, over medium
heat, heat the oil and saute the onions until tender, 8 to 10 minutes.
3. Add the carrots and celery. Saute another
8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables are beginning to brown.
4. Drain the mushrooms, reserving the liquid.
Coarsely chop the mushrooms.
5. Stir the mushrooms into the vegetables;
saute another 2 or 3 minutes.
6. Add the potatoes, prosciutto, barley,
broth and pepper. Add the reserved mushroom liquid, passing it through
a coffee filter or fine strainer lined with cheesecloth. Raise the
heat to high, cover and bring to a boil. Adjust heat, partially
cover and simmer steadily for 1 hour, until barley is very tender
and the soup has become thick.
7. Taste, and correct with salt and pepper.
8. The soup can be served
immediately, but it is best after it rests a few hours, or up to
a few days, and is then re-heated. The soup will thicken as it stands
and you will need to add more broth or water to thin it out. However,
bring the soup back to a simmer before judging if it needs any more
liquid. It should be a thick, not brothy, soup.
9. Serve very hot in deep or flat bowls,
sprinkled with a chopped herb if desired -- mint is amazingly appropriate.
Advance Preparation: See step 8; it freezes