19 July 2007

If you couldn't tell by the title of this blog, I have a bit of a thing for mushrooms. For some reason, mushroom dishes just tend to turn out right for me. I strongly suspect that this may have to do with the fact that I have a knack for choosing ideal marriage partners for mushrooms—namely sherry or white wine, sour cream, and fresh time—or if I just like mushrooms, but no other ingredient so often gives me a dish that I really love, not just basically enjoy.

Last night, I decided to give mushrooms stroganoff a go. I had purchased a couple of handfuls of fresh organic cremeni mushrooms from New Pioneer, but I didn't have anything specific in mind for them. I was first introduced to the taste of cremenis when I worked for Panera Bread, where I sometimes did evening shifts making Crispani, a kind of very thin crust pizza. We used cremenis and shitakes on our wild mushroom pizza, and though the cremenis were chopped and roasted beyond the point of any recognition, and then frozen in large blocks to be thawed and used on the pizzas, they were pretty darned good.

I was a bit sceptical about these particular mushrooms. They looked lovely, and they were a bit cheaper than shitakes, but still significantly more expensive than plain pre-sliced and packaged white mushrooms. I've heard that a cremeni is basically a small portabella, but I wasn't sure how well the distinctive portabella taste would hold up after chopping and cooking and throwing in a pot with onions and garlic and white wine and sour cream.

To be honest, I'm still not sure. It might have been just as good with plain mushrooms, but it was quite good, and I'm willing to give the cremeni some credit. The recipe below is basically what I had in my file with some slight adjustments, but I think I had a bit less than two pounds of mushrooms. I didn't change any of the other measurements but the sour cream, of which I maybe used ¾ of a cup. I also didn't bother with the large heavy saucepan this time, due to the reduced mushroom quantity. The kitchen faeries (also known as the guy I'm subletting my apartment from this summer) left me a really nice heavy medium saucepan, and I'm okay with that.

Mushroom Stroganoff

As always, start with the chopping, as it will make your life easier. I always do onions last because they make me cry—I tried a tip from my friend Andrew this time, namely leaving the onion in the fridge for a few hours before chopping, but it didn't work so well. Anyway, start with a couple of pounds of mushrooms. You can just wash and slice them, but I sliced and then coarsely chopped to avoid big unwieldy slices. Next, peel and chop a couple of garlic cloves. At this point you can go ahead and get a pot of water boiling for the pasta, and put a tablespoon of margarine in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. I started closer to medium and then turned it up a touch when I added the mushrooms. While you're waiting for your margarine to melt, thinly slice a large onion, keeping rings in tact or slicing them in half if you prefer. You could use a Vidalia, but I didn't and the sauce still had a rather pleasant sweet taste. I think a sweet onion might put it a bit over the top.

By now your margarine should be melted, so throw the garlic into the pan and sauté 30 seconds. Add the onion and sauté another two minutes. Keep an eye on your water, and when it boils throw in some pasta. I went with linguine, but I think egg noodles would be just about perfect. After two minutes, throw in the mushrooms. You want to stir fairly frequently at first to avoid sticking, but after five minutes or so the mushrooms will start to juice out and it won't be necessary. At that point I turned the heat up a little closer to high, just to encourage my juices to start evaporating. The recipe says ten minutes, I think it was closer to twelve or fourteen, but that was okay because it gave me time to drain my pasta.

Anyway, when the mushrooms are tender and the juice is almost all gone, you can drop the heat down to medium and add a tablespoon of flour. Stir it all around and cook for about a minute, then add half a cup of white wine and continue to stir frequently for three minutes or until it thickens considerably. Turn the heat off and stir in a cup of sour cream and ¼ t nutmeg, then salt and pepper to taste. I didn't use much salt or pepper. The recipe suggest tossing the pasta in with the sauce, but I just dump it on top and sprinkle with a bit of grated Parmesan.

The other mushroom recipe I just can't sign off without conveying is for a mushroom caviar, delicious on pasta (I like penne) or baguette or you can even just eat it with a spoon. It's amazing, and though it can be a bit of a pain to break out the Cuisinart, it is entirely worth it. The recipe comes to me from my friend Bizzy in Baltimore, who is an amazing cook, but I believe she got it from a cookbook. I'm not sure which one.

Mushroom Caviar

You'll need a food processor to do this right, as it's a smooth caviar and you'd have to chop everything up really small to achieve the same effect. Start with a small onion (or several shallots). Slice small enough to fit into the feed tube if your processor has one and then feed through the shredder blade. It'll come out very watery, so I don't recommend using the chute attachment if you are using a Cuisinart. I tried once and it was very, very messy. Melt a tablespoon of butter with a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan or pot over medium-low heat. Once melted, add the onions. While they're cooking, slice some mushrooms (or pre-slice), and feed about ten ounces of them through the shredder blade (that's a pack if you're buying pre-packaged). I like to chop the mushrooms up a bit before shredding to avoid really long, stringy bits. If your mushrooms start looking like linguine, you'll want to pre-chop.

Once the onions are looking soft and translucent, but not brown, add the mushrooms. Stir frequently for the first five minutes or so, but once they start juicing out you can watch them less carefully and cook up some pasta or toast some bread to serve this stuff on. You'll also want to chop up some fresh thyme if you've got it. When the mushrooms are darkened and most of the juice has evaporated, add a tablespoon of thyme, or a teaspoon if you're using dry. It will make a difference, and I really prefer fresh. Also throw in a splash of your booze of choice. I prefer sherry, and white wine is also good. Wait for the liquid to cook off again, and then take the pan off the heat. Give it a couple of minutes to cool and then stir in a scant half cup of sour cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Incidentally, in the wintertime you can make this a soup by preparing the caviar exactly the same way and then stirring in milk until it's the consistency you want. I've never tried this, however.


Matthew said...

O, Iowa City, how I miss you! The Black Angel. The little painting in the tree. New Pioneer's cheesecake. Black's. Sitting on the bank of the river and thinking, if I wait long enough my enemies will float by, then remembering that I didn't have any enemies. Morels, too, speaking of mushrooms. But above all, the porch swing, the Midwest's great and lasting contribution to civilization. With just a touch of rust on the metal rings to squeak gently with the motion of the moving planet.

Carver said...

Hey Judith,

I'll have to try some of your recipes. Did you know a deep love for mushrooms is hereditary. I got it from my father and you must have gotten it from both of your parents.

Did you know the first time your dad met my dad, your grandpa was bringing me some fresh mushrooms that were on special so he picked some up for both him and your grandma and for me. I wasn't home so he left them in the door but your dad (although not your dad yet)was coming to his side of the duplex and met his future father in law. I'm not even sure if he'd me me yet but he was so impressed with my father bringing me mushrooms it must have made me look good. I'm sure you've heard that story a million times but hey, why not once more and this time immortalized on your blog. Love you, Mom

Judith said...

Matthew--it's funny, I think of the porch swing as a symbol of the South and the things I miss about home (North Carolina). It's comforting to think that the porch swing is alive and well here, even though my apartment has no such luxuries. I haven't tried New Pi cheesecake, but their baked goods are always tempting. Now that I have a recommendation I just may pick one up.

Mom--I'd actually never heard that story! I love it, though, as I do all the Daddy/Grandpa stories. I wonder if I lived in Raleigh if Daddy would ever show up with produce. Probably unlikely, though I'd trust him to keep me informed on the price of kale.

Min said...

Judith, I'm your partner for Taste & Create this month...Mushroom Stroganoff was my choice, and by some miracle I'm already done! I'll send you a link if I can find an email for you...