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Mushrooms for Autumn
We always have cultivated mushrooms but the last few weeks have seen the arrival of the wild Chanterelles and Girolles from Scotland, soon followed by Ceps from France. This week we also have exceptionally good Italian Porcini. We can confidently say the Autumn Mushroom season is well under way so this seems a good time to focus on them; and these three kinds in particular.
With mushrooms, common names can be confusing, particularly when it comes to Chanterelle and Girolle. Chanterelle refers to a whole family of wild mushrooms (Cantharellus) which includes the Girolle (C. cibareus), but the Girolle is often sold under its own species name. Either naming is correct but the Girolle is distinctive, being yellow with meaty, white flesh when cut and a slight aroma of fruit, likened to apricots. It retains its texture when cooked. Whereas the Chanterelle species we most often get has a brown cap with a spindly yellow stem and cooks to a soft brown mass. We can expect to see both coming through our doors well into November, mostly from Scotland where they are happy growing in moss-covered ground.
Porcini/Ceps mostly come in to us from France and Italy. Growing near oak, beech, birch and coniferous trees, they can range hugely in size. They have a cap that looks like a crusty bread roll - which is why, in the UK, they are also known as Penny Bun - and a stem that is thick and swollen. Underneath, its fine white pores age to yellow, then become green and spongy. It’s hard to disagree that this is the king of mushrooms for its firm texture and earthy, mildly meaty flavour. The small ones are good sliced and eaten raw.
Frying is the best way to cook mushrooms. The oil or butter should be heated to sear the mushrooms and seasoning should be at the end of cooking as salt will draw out their water content and result in a stew rather than the desirable caramel sweetness. Sautéed mushrooms with chopped shallot and garlic, with chopped parsley added at the end, needs only a slice of toasted bread, or, maybe, some scrambled egg. Add fried mushrooms to a buttery pasta or Risotto. Sliced mushrooms fried in butter can be layered with diced potatoes that have been boiled until soft. Simply add salt and pepper, pour over some cream and bake in a hot oven for 20 minutes for a deeply savoury gratin that needs nothing more than a green salad for accompaniment. Thinly sliced Lardo draped over fried Porcini is a luscious option.