Wednesday, September 30, 2009
memories of mushrooms
when i was a kid, every may, we used to go to our secret i'd-tell-you-but-i'd-have-to-kill-you spot to hunt the wily morel mushroom. i still remember one bonanza year where we found what i would today refer to as chernobyl morels (tho' chernobyl hadn't yet happened at that point). they were enormous, like 5-6 times the normal size of morels. somewhere in my parents' basement there is undoubtedly a photograph of them. i remember it being taken and that they were laid out on a big piece of plywood for the purpose. i also remember that the local game warden came by to see them (it was a small town and news traveled fast) and that he tried to get it out of my dad where we had found them, but dad wasn't telling. there weren't that many suitable places where morels could grow in that area, so it's a wonder no one ever seemed to find our spot. but they didn't and we went back year after year, tho' we never equaled the haul of that one year in the mid-70s.
i clearly remember pans of tender morels fried up in real butter, served together with a special steak acquired for the occasion. because such fine mushrooms deserved a fine steak. and i remember fondly those exquisite, earthy flavors, eaten only in the few weeks morels, which are quite temperamental, were available. we were eating locally and appreciating things in their proper season before all that was fashionable. the steaks definitely came from locally-raised cattle as well, it was that kind of place.
where i live now, in denmark, the mushroom season comes in the autumn. there are several varieties of rørhatte or boletus (of which the porcini or karl johan is one) and chanterelles - the normal kind (pictured above) and trumpet chanterelles (below).
mushrooms are such a hard-won and precious commodity, crouching as they do, silently in the forest, blending in and hiding, that i always feel like cooking them in the simplest way in order to let them display as much of their mushroomy glory as possible. from childhood, i do have the notion in my head that they are best accompanied by a gorgeous steak. i have been known to stir them into a creamy risotto as well, tho' the temptation to serve that risotto with a steak is strong.
mostly, i do them as follows:
melt 25-50 grams of salted organic butter (depending on how many mushrooms your hunt yielded)
a glug of good quality extra virgin olive oil (i love the combination of butter and fragrant olive oil)
2 cloves of minced garlic
handful of fresh thyme
mound of cleaned, sliced (depending on the size) mushrooms
when we find karl johans, i tend to add a half pint of cream to the above and cook it down to make a thick, creamy mushroom sauce.
you can toss the beautiful, sautéed mess of mushrooms over fresh pasta, into your risotto or serve them as they are in their garlicky goodness, over a good steak. you'll never go wrong doing that.