Mushroom magic

Autumn and winter are the ideal times to be feasting on glorious mushrooms, and a delicious way to make a few plant-based swaps in your weekly meals, writes chef James Evans.

Mushrooms conjure up tastes of earthy, savoury meatiness – it’s no wonder they’ve become a staple meat alternative for veggies and vegans. 

Not everyone is a mushroom lover, as some people associate them with being slimy, brown, and unappetising (usually as a result of being cooked badly). However, it’s easy to find exciting varieties, with numerous different ways to prep and cook them, making them enjoyable for almost anyone.

Wild mushrooms are an absolute autumnal treat. If you have the confidence to pick them, then there is nothing better than scurrying around in the woods looking for these edible treasures. If it’s been mild, you may be able to continue foraging through November and even early December – and there are lots of great resources online to help guide and protect you.

Mushroom

Wild mushrooms should be approached with caution, as they can be poisonous. The Woodland Trust has a good piece on their blog with a list of helpful tips and a guide for which to look for. Woodland varieties include Beefsteak fungus (which are a magnificent red colour), Charcoal Burner, field mushrooms, and more. 

All over Europe, mushrooms are a staple and iconic ingredient. One of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten is a pizza in the mountain town of Courmayeur, in the Italian alps, covered in Porcini mushrooms. In Catalonia in Spain, mushroom picking is such a popular activity that there are shops that welcome people to bring their mushrooms in to be officially identified by experts, just to be extra safe. 

Luckily for those of us who don’t have the opportunity to pick our own, organic mushrooms are quickly becoming widely available throughout the year. It’s fairly easy to find an exciting array in shops; sometimes even in supermarkets, which often sell King Oyster, Shiitake and others. Forest Funghi, a smaller producer based in South Devon, sell an assortment of gourmet mushrooms, both fresh and dried, via their website for home delivery, as well as through organic veg box company Riverford. 

For me there is nothing more delicious than fresh mushrooms cooked in butter with eggs on toast, but for those who are up for something more adventurous, or need a little extra convincing, here are a few other suggestions. 

Mushroom risotto

It’s hard to beat a mushroom risotto. This recipe is an absolute classic, with the addition of dried Porcini mushrooms adding hugely to the depth of flavour. To be extra fancy, try serving it with a warm egg yolk or stuffing into a squash.

Mushroom

Ingredients

30g dried Porcini mushrooms, soaked in 300ml boiling water for 30 mins
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
leaves from 2 sprigs fresh thyme
400g risotto rice
100ml Madeira or masala (optional)
200g mushrooms, sliced
1.2 litres hot veg stock
25g butter
2 tbsp Parmesan, grated
salt and pepper 

Method

Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the onion and thyme for a few mins to soften. Pour in the rice and stir continuously for 2 mins. Add the Madeira or masala if using, and stir for a minute. Add all the mushrooms and the Porcini liquid.

Cook for 1 min.

Add hot stock a ladle at a time, stirring occasionally, letting the rice absorb it before adding more. It will take about 20 mins before the rice is tender but still has a little bite – taste a grain or two.

Season, then stir in the butter and Parmesan, until it goes creamy. Top with some Parmesan shavings if you like.

 

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Crispy maple, tahini and soy mushrooms on toast

These really are a taste and texture sensation, and don’t have a hint of ‘sliminess’. Cooking thin strips of mushrooms in a sugary, salty marinade makes them wonderfully crispy, rivalling crispy bacon any day. 

To make for two people, thinly slice 400g of mushrooms. A mixture is nice, e.g. King Oyster, Chestnut and Shimeji. 
Make a marinade by mixing 1 tablespoon each of soy sauce, dark tahini, and maple syrup.

Maple

Mix the mushrooms with the marinade and leave to sit for 15 mins. Spread out across baking parchment on a roasting tin, and cook for 15 mins at 180°C/Gas 4 (turning half way). I love them served on toasted sourdough with creamy labneh. Finish with some toasted flaked almonds, if you fancy, for a glorious brunch dish.

Mushroom stroganoff (veggie or vegan)

Finally, consider a vegetarian or vegan mushroom stroganoff. The combination of earthy mushrooms with smoky paprika, herbs and cream is so good; it’s a dish that has a depth of umami (savoury taste) that’s harder to achieve in vegetarian dishes. 

To make for two, start by frying a diced onion. After 10 mins, add 400g of sliced mushrooms – a mix works well. Fry for a few mins, then add 1 teaspoon of paprika and ½ a teaspoon of smoked paprika, and season. Add a dash of white wine and a dash of water.

Stroganoff

Let it bubble for a minute, then add a teaspoon of mustard, and 3 tablespoons of soured cream or plant-based alternative. Finish with a squeeze of lemon, and stir in some chopped parsley and dill. Serve with rice for a comforting autumn and winter meal. 

This article was originally published in the autumn-winter print edition of Wicked Leeks. You can read the full magazine for free on Issuu.

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