Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Forget Fried Morels- Foraging Goes Upscale

Nothing gets under my skin quite like the mistreatment of wild mushrooms. You know the drill. You dress in long pants, long sleeves, hat, hose yourself with bug spray, grab a mesh bag and wander around the woods for a few hours. You nudge leaves, poke around the ground with a stick, scream at spiders and snakes, scuffle around the mud and muck and if you're lucky, you come home with a couple dozen morel mushrooms. Like so many other uninspired people you soak them, rinse them, dry them, dip them in eggs and crushed crackers and fry them. Dip in the requisite ketchup or ranch dressing. Ho hum. Not only is that so old and boring, but in my opinion, you just ruined them. Morels, and any other wild mushroom or foraged food, is so much more than a quick pan fry. They are, after all, considered by many to be the The King of Mushrooms, right?

Here in Iowa people seem to be stuck on the morel. Don't get me wrong, the morel is a real delight if you're lucky enough to find them, and they're here for such a short season. Getting friends out in the woods after morel season has ended is just about impossible, but that's when some of the real treasures of the woods are popping up and making their appearance- chanterelles, black trumpets, chicken of the woods and hen of the woods- all incredibly delicious, and growing right in our own backyards. In order to gain inspiration and learn more, and see these mushrooms in recipes, I have joined online groups with members who appreciate the morel, and so much more.

Like I often do, I began chatting with and got to know several really amazing cooks in some of the online wild mushroom and foraged food groups. One group in particular held a special appeal for me. The first thing I noticed was the level of creativity in these dishes folks were crafting and the sheer skill they were demonstrating. Asian noodle bowls brimming with wild mushrooms. Italian-inspired pasta dishes and even a version of pesto made from chanterelles and other wild mushrooms. I learned about all kinds of edible mushrooms I never knew existed! And truffles- in Oregon people harvest truffles! I had no idea....... Anyway, one of these amazing cooks is Mary Smiley, the founder of the group Cooking With Wild Mushrooms, and when I asked the group if anyone would be willing to share some recipes and photos, Mary was happy to. You can thank me later.

Like I  mentioned, Mary Smiley is the founder of this very cool Facebook group. This group is unlike any other wild foods group I have ever seen. These folks have an incredible talent for cooking and group's sole focus is cooking- not posting pictures of "what mushroom is this" and other nonsense, it's all about the cooking. No, they don't just bread and fry mushrooms, holy heck they create dishes worthy of any Michelin Star restaurant. I am absolutely serious. The pictures could grace any cookbook, ingredients varied, everything from appetizers to soups to desserts. I recently asked Mary if she would be willing to share some of her beautiful photos, maybe a recipe or two, and a little story about her foraging and her cooking background.

I joined this group right at the height of chanterelle season. It was pure torture. If you have never tasted a chanterelle, you have been missing out. They are very striking in appearance and have a firm meaty texture. They don't have a stem and cap like regular grocery store mushrooms- they have an almost flower-like shape, like tulips. The color is incredible- a bright beautiful yellow orange shade.  Luckily they are easy to find in dehydrated form, but what I wouldn't give for a nice quantity of fresh chanties. 

Baked eggs with garlic chive chevre, sauteed shallots and
chanterelles and ramp pesto
Mary shared so many pictures of incredible dishes, it was hard to decide which ones to share. She has literally every meal covered- baked eggs with mushrooms, all kinds of lighter options for lunch, hearty pasta for dinner, even candied mushrooms in a caramel sauce for dessert. Yep, you heard me right. Candied. Chanterelles. Caramel sauce. You're welcome.

Candied chanterelles with dried apricot in caramel sauce
In another recipe she steeps candy cap mushrooms, known for their maple flavor, in cream before making the perfect Creme Brulee with a flawless crisp sugar crust. I can't speak for everyone but I absolutely adore Creme Brulee and Mary's version sounds absolutely heavenly. She is right on point with the current trend of slightly savory desserts.

Like I said- creativity is off the chart. Another foraged mushroom that Mary cooks with is the popular chicken of the woods. This is a huge mushroom that grows almost like a colony on trees. Chicken of the woods grow all over where I live and have been a favorite of mine ever since I was a little kid. I remember my dad lugging home great big bags full of them every year. Why are they called chicken of the woods? Simple- when cooked they take on the flavor and texture of chicken breast fillets. They are so versatile and you can imagine Mary is using them in some fun recipes.

Chicken of the woods pot pie? Sure, I'll take one!

Morels, hericium, black trumpets and more, get the gourmet treatment from Mary too. Let's get to know Mary and maybe she will share a recipe.

1. Mary where in the world did you learn to cook all these amazing mushroom dishes?   I just read cookbooks and then either follow or dream up my own recipes based on ideas I get from recipes I've read.

2. Do you have a favorite wild mushroom?  My favorite wild mushroom is the Boletus edulis, a.k.a. porcini.

3. Wild edibles tend to be vastly different from region to region. What state do you live in and what are the top three most popular wild mushrooms in your area?   I currently live in southwest Florida, but there are not a lot of edible wild mushrooms where I live. We do have chanterelles and shaggy manes, chicken of the woods, but nothing like the edibles you find in the Pacific Northwest, California or even the Midwest. 

I learned about mushrooms when I lived in California, in the San Francisco Bay area. I have also lived in Seattle, Montana and Oregon. The trees are different, and of course the terrain, geography and climates are vastly different. Every time I moved I had to learn everything all over again. There is nowhere like Florida tho- crazy mushrooms and none of the rules apply.

4. You founded the group Cooking With Wild Mushrooms- with over 4000 members did you ever think the group would get so big and have such an impressive group of cooks?  I have another group, wildmushroomhunting.org, which is both an online forum with lots of discussion forums within, as well as my Facebook group with the same name. That group has over 7,000 members. I am purposely trying to keep my cooking group contained and smaller by really vetting each and every person who requests membership. If you don't have anything showing an interest in wild mushrooms, you don't get in. I have noticed in other groups when the number of members climbs over 5,000 the problems begin with controlling people and fighting, and other unpleasant things begin to happen. So in this case, less is more.

5. What other wild foods do you enjoy?  I pick berries, ramps,wild garlic, nuts, whatever I can find that I am familiar with. I am growing an edible landscape in my backyard and have bananas, pineapples, mangoes, papayas, limes, lemons, key limes, lychee, avocado, olives, passion fruit, coconut trees (no fruit yet), elderberries, peaches, figs, kaffir limes, ginger and cape gooseberries.

I am hoping to give people ideas so they will try new ways of preparing their wild mushrooms. Frankly, I'm getting tired of the same old pizzas and pot pies. I want people to think outside the box and experiment. My goal this week is to do a new chanterelle recipe every day for a week to show people the variety of what can be done, and that it doesn't have to be a challenge to do it, and to learn to have fun in the kitchen. I know I have!

Chanterelle ravioli in sweet corn saffron broth
6. Any advice for the novice mushroom forager? The best advise is to never ever eat a mushroom if you are not 100% certain of it's identity and always ask an expert for ID help. There are common look-alike mushrooms that can fool people. There are also deadly poisonous mushrooms, so never eat a mushroom you can't identify. 

I asked Mary if she had any favorite recipes- she really didn't have a favorite, per se, but she was kind enough to share the recipe for that amazing chanterelle ravioli in sweet corn broth so let's head into the kitchen and make this beautiful dish.

Mary's Chanterelle Ravioli in Sweet Corn Saffron Broth

For the ravioli:
1/2 pound (approximately) Chanterelles, cleaned
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup Mexican crema
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary
1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano
salt and pepper
fresh pasta dough 

For the broth:
3 cups water
2 cloves garlic,cut in half
1/2 cup minced onion
3 ears of fresh sweet corn, cut from the cob
pinch of saffron

Slice the chanterelles. 

In a large skillet, heat the butter and olive oil. Add the mushrooms, shallots and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Saute over low heat, covered for about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, combine the broth ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for an hour. Remove from heat and allow to cool before straining. Reheat the broth when ready to serve.

Place the cooled mushrooms in a food processor and pulse to chop. Remove to a bowl and gently mix in the crema, rosemary, and Parmigiano and mix well. Taste for seasoning.

Roll the pasta dough thinly and cut into squares. Fill with a small scoop of the filling, moisten with a little water and top with a second pasta sheet, pressing to seal. Mary used homemade pasta dough for her ravioli. Sometimes I use wonton skins to save time and it works like a charm, using an egg wash to seal them.

Cook the ravioli in boiling salted water until cooked through. Fresh pasta cooks quickly so don't stray too far from the pot. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in shallow bowls. Ladle the sweet corn broth over and garnish with fresh rosemary leaves.

This dish is simply gorgeous and is worthy of ANY fine dining restaurant. It makes a fantastic first course for just about any cuisine. Chanterelles are a very special treat and saffron just brings this broth to the next level. 

I enjoy browsing the group every day and marveling over all the new dishes people are sharing. Now if I can just find time to get out in the woods!

**All photos are property of Mary Smiley

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