I just love mushrooms. I’m fascinated by their beauty and miraculous appearance not to mention their deliciousness. Nonetheless my passion for eating them and being haunted, as I am, by their potential to do serious harm, I have never been tempted to forage for them myself.
As autumn draws near, many others are looking forward to the thrill of the mushroom hunt, poking and peering into dark corners and shady recesses using their noses as well as their eyes to forage among the wet underwood in search of ceps, morels, chanterelles, shaggy ink cap (sounds poisonous from its name, but they are not) and common field mushrooms but there is still danger out there as someone recently said “All mushrooms are edible, but some you’ll eat only once”.
The only mushroom I would feel confident plucking from the ground, is the giant puffball. These are huge, white and loosely spherical with no stalk, reminiscent of overgrown marshmallows. Puffballs with their delicate flavour are perfect for soups, as they are easy to blend down nicely. They are a little like the pumpkins of the mushroom world, extremely profligate, with their spores, found in meadows and pastures often near hedges. When I walked my dog at Rushmore I would see them dotted all over the place; however, they were mostly covered in brown blemishes and should be avoided. When I first moved to Ludwell nearly sixteen years ago, my neighbour brought home a giant puffball, giving me a large slice the size of my hand. I cooked it slowly in a frying pan with butter and a little salt and served it on crunchy ciabatta toast. Recalling this delicious meal makes my mouth water and makes me want to get out there and find one of my own.
I have planted two Kentish cob trees in my garden which have been impregnated with truffle spores – summer truffle (Tuber aestivum), I presume, as it is the only truffle that grows in this country. According to the experts you need a trained animal to hunt for the hidden treasure. Fortunately, I know where I have planted mine and so won’t be buying a pig anytime soon. Fresh white truffle which is grown in north-western Italy, and is three times the cost of the more common black truffle from France, has flavour so intense that it is used very sparingly, shaved onto risotto or added to ravioli with cheese in minute amounts. There really is something truly seductive about truffles.
I plan to cultivate my own mushrooms this autumn. I learnt the simple method whilst on a course a few years ago. You need a supply of freshly cut hardwood logs and spore-impregnated dowels which you insert into the logs then leave them in a damp shady area for many months, then you ‘shock’ them by banging them very hard on the ground and, in a couple of weeks, out pop the mushrooms. Sounds straightforward. We will see, I shall be sure to update you via these pages. Happy hunting if you know what you are doing!
Mushroom, Spinach and Goats Cheese Lasagne
Approx. £8.95 when all ingredients bought at Ludwell Stores.
This delicious lasagne will work with almost any mushroom you care to mention. Fresh ceps would be my first choice mixed with field or chestnut mushrooms, but use whatever is around. Dried mushrooms, shiitake for example, may be a little too strong for this dish.
800 ml Béchamel sauce, made with 750 ml milk and 175 ml cream
100 g Parmesan plus a little for sprinkling
½ tsp grated nutmeg
300 g spinach, washed, de-stalked, dunked in boiling water for 1 minute
2 cloves garlic, chopped
250 g goats cheese (mild, creamy) or use Ricotta
150 g shallots – finely diced
75 ml olive oil
500 g mushrooms – sliced
1 tbs fresh tarragon – chopped
Handful parsley – chopped
200 ml crème fraiche
Good glug Marsala or sherry
300 g fresh lasagne or 250 g dried and cooked (don’t use lasagne that claims you don’t need to pre-cook)
Preheat oven to 200°C / Gas mark 6 AGA top oven – middle shelf
1. Having made the béchamel, add the nutmeg, Parmesan and seasoning to taste. Whisk hard until smooth and put aside placing greaseproof paper on the top to avoid a skin forming.
2. Dunk the washed spinach leaves into boiling water for 30 seconds until wilted, refresh with cold water, dry and chop roughly, not too finely.
3. Add the goat’s cheese in lumps or teaspoons to the spinach, keeping it rough and loose, you want the cheese to be identifiable on the plate, so mix gently.
4. To make the mushroom mix, sauté the shallots and garlic in a large pan, using the olive oil. Add the sliced mushrooms and stir to coat the mushrooms in the shallots and oil. Cook for around 10 minutes until the mushroom liquid has evaporated.
5. Add a glug of Marsala or sherry and cook hard until the liquid has been absorbed and breathe in the wonderful sweet aroma. Add the crème fraiche and stir well.
6. Now add the tarragon and parsley together with seasoning to taste (you can afford a good grinding of black pepper here).
7. To put the dish together, begin by spreading a little béchamel on the base of a rectangular dish.
8. Place a sheet of cooked lasagne on the top covering the base of the dish.
9. Spoon a thin layer of the spinach mix on the lasagne and add the mushrooms mix, building up all the components of the dish ending with a layer of béchamel. Sprinkle the top with Parmesan.
10. Cook for 45 minutes until golden. Serve with a crisp green salad.
A truly, truly scrumptious supper dish or for entertaining.
These musings and recipes are gleaned from The Donhead Digest with the permission of AIF, their author.