i've learned over the last couple of years that when fall comes to the pacific northwest, saying you're going for a hike might be met with, "are you going mushroom hunting?" there are quite a few forageables in this part of the country, and a fair-sized population of people interested in finding them.
i've been intrigued by the idea of a mushroom-gathering expedition for a while now, but lacked two pieces of critical information: 1) where to go, and 2) what to look for. you have to go with someone experienced, and as i understand it, mushroom hunters who have their own trusty spot are reluctant to share such treasure with others. thankfully, i have a couple of friends who are clever enough to have recently gotten themselves invited on a hunt for chanterelles, and who also happen to be spectacular cooks.
dinner monday night with b and v was an incredible chanterelle feast. first up, the mushrooms were sauteed in sherry and mixed with a little creme fraiche, served on crostini. unreasonably delicious. next, we had them roasted with asparagus, cooked with bacon and tossed with boiled new potatoes, and made into a stroganoff-style sauce which was served on rare beef. there was so much amazingness on that table it was overwhelming. at the end of the night they sent us home with a couple of pounds of our very own chanterelles. awesome!
chanterelles are one of about 30 edible, forageable varieties in this part of the world. they are difficult to cultivate since their growth depends on a symbiotic relationship that takes place at the root level of certain trees. they are, as are all mushrooms i've learned from the most recent issue of edible seattle, actually the fruit of a larger organism called the mycelium that makes it's home in the soil. because they have to be hand picked from the forest floor, chanterelles are quite expensive. but if you know where and how to find them, you've got a goldmine on your hands.
so, what to do with my paper bag o' delicacies? i decided to stretch them as far as i could, and make several different dishes. first was homemade pappardelle with chanterelles in a creamy tomato sauce. i essentially followed a recipe for pappardelle with wild mushrooms, rosemary, and light tomato sauce from the summertime anytime cookbook by dana slatkin.
it was... good, but not amazing. the pasta was good, the sauce was good, the mushrooms were good, but at the end of the day, it was pasta with mushrooms in a tomato sauce-- not the most exciting way to show off the flavor of such a coveted ingredient. the next night i changed direction.
on a back episode of top chef i was re-watching for the 3rd time tuesday morning, a chef made a gnocchi dish with lobster, bacon, corn, and chanterelle mushrooms. heck yeah! i'll just leave off the lobster, make up a sauce, and it'll be great! i had made a couple of pounds of gnocchi earlier in the month and frozen it for just such an occasion, so this would even be a relatively quick meal. it was uncomplicated and delicious! if it had been served to me at a restaurant, i'd have only been disappointed that there wasn't twice as much of it on the plate.
gnocchi with chanterelle mushrooms, corn, and bacon
1 lb prepared gnocchi
2 slices bacon
1 ear fresh corn, kernels removed with a sharp knife
1/2 - 3/4 lb chanterelle mushrooms, cleaned and sliced, small ones left whole
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine
pat of butter
salt and pepper
cook bacon over medium heat and remove to drain on paper towels. crumble or cut into bits. drain off most of bacon grease and return pan to heat.
add mushrooms to pan. when they hit the heat, they will lose a lot of their liquid pretty quickly and cook down a bit in their own juices. when they are softened and golden, remove from pan and reserve, reserving also the mushroom liquid in a separate bowl to be used in the sauce later.
saute the onions and garlic in the same pan with some olive oil or butter. cook until onions are transluscent, or caramelize if you want. (i usually add the garlic at the last minute to sweat it but not risk burning). add corn to pan. cook a few minutes more until corn cooks through and the mixture begins to marry. it smells really good at this stage...
add white wine to pan and deglaze, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom. cook 2 minutes or so until the wine reduces and the mixture thickens. add chicken stock and cook a few minutes more, again, reducing and thickening. repeat with reserved mushroom liquid. stir in a pat of butter for added richness.
add mushrooms and crumbled bacon to the sauce and warm through. season to taste with salt and pepper.
serve on gnocchi. i boiled and pan fried mine in butter to give it a little texture. note: if using frozen gnocchi, do not thaw before cooking.
it's just dirt, it won't hurt anybody, but i don't like gritty meals and chanterelle mushrooms are filthy! to clean, remove the part of the stem that was underground and brush or scrape off as much of the rest of the dirt as possible. they're pretty robust, they can take it. wash under running water, paying attention to any trapped dirt in the gills. clean only just before use, though-- don't clean and store wet or they will, um, i don't know what they will do, but it might not be pretty. they will last several days in a paper bag in the fridge.
just a handful left! what to do tonight?