Monday, September 8, 2008
Mushrooms. One of those polarizing vegetables. People either love them or hate them. My brother Alex will eat almost anything you put in front of him except, you guessed it, mushrooms.
I would have to put myself in the "like" category. I really do like most fungi but a few really put me off. Morels, for example. I can't get over their brain-like look and texture and also don't want to deal with eating whatever dirt and small creatures are living in the impossible-to-clean-grooves. Some of the meatier mushrooms also give me the willies - that chewy texture reminds me of meat and therefore grosses me out. I have made my peace with portabellos but others like lobster mushrooms, I just can't eat.
Chanterelles are another story altogether. In my opinion, they are the most lovely, subtle, and delicate of the mushroom family. Their texture is soft and the flavor almost buttery. We are so lucky to live in a climate where they are plentiful. I found them at a Harvest Fair in our neighborhood for $12 a pound which seemed like an incredible bargain. They don't weigh much, so you get a lot for your money.
Whenever I buy chanterelles, I make a risotto. I think it is the best way to showcase their soft flavor without overwhelming it with too many flavors. Every fall, I make several renditions of it and I think this version was the best so far. I have to share my favorite piece of mushroom advice which came directly from a forager. I asked him how to clean the chanterelles, which are always dirty, since I had heard that rinsing them made them absorb too much water and ruined the flavor. He looked at me like I was a total idiot and said, "Mushrooms grow in the forest. In this climate. They get rained on all the time. Just rinse them." And so that is what I do.
Chanterelle and Corn Risotto with Fresh Thyme and Basil
If you have the funds, or just really love chanterelles, feel free to use up to a pound for this amount of risotto.
1-2 tbsp. butter
1/2 lb. chanterelle mushrooms, ends trimmed and thickly sliced
3 ears corn, shucked and kernels trimmed from the cob, cobs reserved
Several stems fresh thyme, leaves stripped
1 large leek, white and light green part only, cut in half, then thinly sliced
2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
6-8 cups vegetable broth
1/2-1 cup freshly grated Parmesan, or to taste
1/2 cup basil, thinly sliced
For the mushrooms: Melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt. Sprinkle with the thyme leaves and saute until beginning to brown around the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the corn, stir and allow to cook until the corn is tender, about 3 minutes. Set aside.
For the rice: Pour broth into a large saucepan. Add the corn cobs and heat it until it is hot to the touch. Heat a large Dutch oven or saucepan over medium heat. Add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan, then add the leeks. Saute until soft but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat. Pour in the wine and stir until it is absorbed. Begin adding ladlefuls of broth to the rice mixture, stirring until each one is absorbed. It should take about 20 minutes in all. Taste as you go and when the rice is softer, but still very al dente, add the mushroom mixture and a handful of Parmesan cheese. Continue adding broth as described above until it is the desired doneness. Stir in basil and cook for another minute. Add more Parmesan and salt and pepper to taste.