(I thought this might get your attention!)
No, I am not about to list suppliers of those hallucinogenic fungi that many experimented with while at university, but to share my love of the exotic “Bolitus Edulus” mushroom. Known by the French as the “Cep” and by the Italians as the “Porcini”, this fabulous fungus may be foraged for in the pine forests clinging to the sides of our Boland mountains ten days after the first autumn rains. It is a bit of a bun fight, though, with many vying for the best spots. Thankfully these seasonal delicacies may be purchased fresh from great delicatessens such as “Wild Peacock” in Stellenbosch or from suppliers such as “Nouvelle Mushrooms”. They are also available from most supermarkets in the dried form which is, by far, the most practical method of keeping and using them… You are also then guaranteed to not have mistakenly picked a poisonous species…
Bolitus mushrooms have a wonderful, earthy taste, and are listed in taste profiles as being of “umami” flavour. One of South Africa’s most celebrated chefs, Luke Dale Roberts, cleverly groups items on his menu at his restaurant, “The Potluck Club“, into these taste groups, and one can select dishes which are sweet, sour, bitter, salt -or umami-flavoured. I am not sure where the latter is tasted by one’s tongue as it does not feature on any of the diagrams that I have seen. Perhaps this “new”, fifth taste profile will feature in my children’s Biology textbooks soon…
Whatever its classification, wild mushrooms can add a wonderful depth to what would otherwise be rather bland dishes. I love playing with classic food combinations and find it so rewarding to create a variety of mouth watering dishes from a basket of a few basic ingredients. The Bolitus remains the star, however, no matter what you add. Below is a tray of goodies that I love to play with, and I offer you a few ideas of what to do with them.
1) For a sumptuous soup, fry off one onion (diced) in butter until soft. Add a peeled, cubed potato and 2 cups of chicken stock. Boil until the potato is soft. Add 40g dried mushrooms (which have been rehydrated in 1 cup of warm water for at least an hour until soft). Add these AND the liquid to the soup base.* Heat through. Season with salt and pepper. Add a tablespoon of freshly chopped parsley and a dash of cream and blend to the desired “chunkiness”. You can add a tot of Medium cream sherry, too, just to make it a bit more special. Serves 2.
2) I make the following pasta sauce which always evokes a positive response.
Rehydrate 1 packet (80g) dried Porcini in 2 cups of water until soft (minimum 1 hour). Fry off one onion, diced, in 30ml butter until soft and translucent. Add a chopped clove of garlic and cook gently for one minute. Stir in 10ml flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring through. Add 200ml of the mushroom water, heated in the microwave, and stir until thick. Add the drained mushrooms and 1 cup of cream, salt and pepper and cook until warmed through and sticky but not gloopy or too thick. Toss in enough cooked pasta for four guests, sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan and enjoy! (Sometimes I add diced bacon or cubed chicken breasts to the cooked onions and continue as before. Freshly chopped chives, parsley or garden thyme can also change things up a bit.) A huge hit at Cafe Dijon in Stellenbosch was our Home made potato gnocchi with Porcini sauce. Not a pretty dish by any means, but oh, so delicious!
3) The above pasta sauce (without the bacon or chicken), but with a dash of sherry and a pinch of garden thyme, makes a great sauce to serve with grilled chicken or beef, venison or ostrich steak.
4) This basic mushroom sauce is also great as a topping for baked potatoes. Again, add bacon or chicken and the fresh herbs to your taste – or whim! No sherry, though. Blue cheese makes it even better!
5) Ina Paarman’s “Chicken Pie Deluxe” is an old favourite of mine (page 46 of her cookery book, “Cook with Ina Paarman”, published way back when in 1987!) This dish featured on many a wedding buffet when I ran my catering business on the farm during the 90’s and her recipe still forms the basis of the “Chicken Pot Pie” served at the restaurant today. The addition of Porcini to this basic chicken pie recipe elevates it and is worth a try!
6) Dup loves to add wild mushrooms to any “potjie”. Chicken, Beef, Game and Lamb all accept the earthy addition of this umami element. Again, remember to keep the rehydration liquid to add to the potjie’s sauce.*
7) One of our favourite risottos is Porcini and Thyme. Use the fresh or rehydrated mushrooms as you would in any basic risotto recipe, but always use good, homemade chicken stock and not a stock cube. They are pure salt and lack the gelatin that you gain from boiling down skin and bones.
8) Use Porcini (preferably fresh) and Gorgonzola Cheese as an Omelette filling. You will live in anticipation of Autumn from that day on. Believe me!
9) Whatever your mood, however, nothing beats some porcini fried with garlic, onion and thyme, finished off with a dash of cream and served on a slice of griddled ciabatta. Mushrooms on toast never tasted so good.
* A few words of warning: Silt can sometimes remain in the folds of the dried mushrooms and this settles on the bottom of your reconstituting water bowl. Never pour all the liquid into your dish but rather lift the mushrooms out with a slotted spoon and pour 2/3 of the liquid into your dish through a muslin cloth.
Also, do not substitute the Porcini/Cep/Bolitus with Shitake mushrooms. They have more of a metallic taste than the preferred earthy one and are, in my opinion, less appetizing in the recipe ideas listed above, being more suited to far Eastern cuisine. (I wonder how Chef Luke will classify them?)