Russians have always been mad about mushrooming, and their literature is full of stories of mushrooming parties. Mushroom season was eagerly anticipated every year, my parents and their friends returning from mushroom-gathering expeditions with boot loads of boxes laden with slippery jacks and pine mushrooms. The tiny ones were most in demand, the chore of trimming, cleaning and chopping often a group effort around the kitchen table at our family country house. Australian neighbours frequently voiced concerns about them being poisonous. Pine mushrooms had to be processed quickly as they turn green when cut. Blanched and pickled with vinegar, bay leaf and peppercorns they make a fine zakúska to accompany vodka. My father prepared the hot pickling liquid and jars for them while the women sliced around the table.
This is a simple wild mushroom ragout that can be enhanced with the addition of garlic or tarragon as desired, depending on its final use. It is delicious with polenta served with a rich roast chicken or pheasant. It works just as well with cultivated mushrooms.
500gm fresh wild autumn mushrooms
100g dried morels or other dried mushrooms, soaked for 20 minutes in very hot water and squeezed dry (retain the water)
2 medium-sized shallots, finely chopped
1 cup chicken stock or retained mushroom soaking water passed through a fine sieve
salt and freshly ground pepper
60g additional butter or sour cream (optional)
chopped chives for garnishing
- Cultivated mushrooms generally require only trimming and brushing. Wild mushrooms, if they need to be washed at all – where a great deal of dirt and grit is visible – must never be soaked. A quick splash should suffice. The only exception is fresh morels. The conical sponge caps can harbour insects as well as sand. They often require washing in several changes of water.
- Brush clean any field mushrooms and cut them into quarters. Slippery jacks any larger than 4 or 5cm in diameter will need peeling. Trim the stems and cut into 1-2cm slices. Discard any overlarge saffron milkcaps or any that are waterlogged from rain. Brush off pine needles and dirt then trim and slice.
- In a sauté pan melt about one-third of the butter. Sweat the shallots for 3 – 4 minutes then add the dried morels and cook slowly for 2-3 mintues. Add the stock or strained mushroom water and simmer, partly covered, for about 15 minutes until the morels are tender. Remove from the heat and allow the pan contents to cool. In another pan, heat a little of the remaining butter over medium heat and sauté the fresh mushrooms in batches, for 5 minutes at a time, or until cooked through. Add to the morels and their juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- When ready to use, reheat and serve as is, or swirl in extra butter or sour cream. Stir through, adjust seasoning, serve and garnish with chopped chives.
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