Suppose you are craving wild mushrooms. In a perfect world, if you actually did trek into a forest, and knew where to go and knew what to look for, you might happen upon an enclave of golden chanterelles just waiting to be picked. The yellow beauties would jump into your basket at the touch of a pocketknife blade.
Around a bend, in a grove of pines, you'd stumble over fine, firm porcini — the regal, highly prized boletus edulis. You have wisely planned ahead and brought along an iron skillet, and some olive oil, garlic and parsley.
Oh, yes, and salt, a crusty loaf of bread and a bottle of red wine. Over a fire of twigs, the mushrooms sizzle and, in a moment, an exquisite al fresco meal is ready to share with your fellow foragers.
Well, a fellow can dream.
Here in the city, my mushroom-hunting plan is quite a bit different, even if the objective is the same. I want wild mushrooms for dinner, but I don't want to spend a fortune on them at the store.
My compromise is to make a stew using mostly cultivated mushrooms. But I give them a boost of wild flavor in a couple of ways.
The first is to make an intense, flavorful broth with a handful of dried porcini. The other is to actually buy some wild mushrooms.
A scant half-pound of chanterelles, even if pricey, won't break the bank. The rest of the rustic stew (call it a ragout if you wish) is made of shiitake, cremini and oyster mushrooms.
As it simmers, this saucy, herbaceous mushroom stew gains depth and character. Spooned over pasta or nestled up to a soft mound of polenta, it evokes the comfort of home and the primal in each bite.
Makes about 3 cups.
Time: 35 minutes.
1⁄4 C crumbled dry porcini (about 4 g)
1 sm onion, sliced
6 scallions, roughly chopped
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
Put all ingredients into a saucepan. Cover with 4 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain. Broth may be made in advance and will keep for a week, refrigerated.
Fresh and Wild Mushroom Stew
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Time: 1 hour.
11⁄2 lb cultivated brown mushrooms, like shiitake, cremini or portobello
1⁄2 lb pale wild mushrooms, like chanterelle (or King trumpet or oyster)
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 lg onion, diced
Salt and pepper
1 tsp chopped thyme
1 tsp chopped sage or rosemary
Pinch of red pepper flakes or cayenne
1 TBS tomato paste
3 sm ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 TBS all-purpose flour
Porcini broth (see recipe), heated, or use chicken broth
1 TBS butter
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 TBS chopped parsley
Clean mushrooms, keeping colors separate, and trim tough stems. (Save stems for stock.) Slice mushrooms about 1⁄8-inch thick.
In a wide skillet, warm 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until onion has softened and browned, about 10 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
Add 1 more tablespoon oil and turn heat to high. Add brown mushrooms, season lightly and stir-fry until nicely colored, about 3 minutes. Lower heat to medium. Add thyme, sage, red pepper and tomato paste. Add tomatoes, stir well, and cook for 1 minute. Season again with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon flour, stir to incorporate and cook for 1 minute more. Return the onions to the pan.
Add 1 cup mushroom broth; stir until thickened, about 1 minute. Gradually add 1 more cup broth; cook 2 minutes.
Sauce should have gravy-like consistency; thin with broth if needed. Adjust seasoning. (May be prepared to this point hours ahead and reheated.)
Just before serving, put butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in wide skillet over medium-high heat. When butter begins to brown, add chanterelles, season with salt and pepper, and saute about 2 minutes, until cooked through and beginning to brown. Add garlic and parsley, stir to coat and cook 1 minute more. Add chanterelles to brown mushroom mixture; transfer to a warm serving bowl. Serve with polenta or pasta if you wish.