Mushrooms and More

I am a mushroom lover, something deplored by both members of my own family and certain of my colleagues. The mushroom stand at the farmers’ market is one of my favorite stops, and in August, almost every type of mushroom is available for devouring—porcini, oyster, shiitake, Portobello, puffball, and my favorite, chanterelle.

I first ate chanterelles in Germany, on my honeymoon, and they were a revelation. Both sweet and nutty and utterly themselves, I ordered them at every opportunity, delighting in their burnt orange color, so different than the dark browns and pearls I was used to.

When the first chanterelles of the season appeared at the market this year, Teacherman was out of town. I thought about waiting until he came back to buy some, but couldn’t wait: I bought 6 oz for my very own self.

I barely did anything to them, just swished them through salted water to clean, sautéed them in butter, and scrambled three eggs around them. With the addition of a vinegary salad, it was, as cookbooks of 70 years ago used to say, The Perfect Supper for a Single Girl.

chanterelle scrambled eggs

When Teacherman came home a week later, I was willing to share. (Or rather, I was willing to take another opportunity to eat chanterelles). This time, though, my preparation was more elaborate.

I’d read several recipes for alternative takes on risotto, using different grains, like barley, steel-cut oats, quinoa, or buckwheat groats. I’d been wanting to try the technique using oats, and the flavor of chanterelles seemed as if it would match up well with the oats. I wanted a bit more than just oats and mushrooms, though, and I remembered another recipe I’d seen recently (I don’t remember where) for a sauté of chanterelles and corn, with tarragon. It was a short step to combine the two ideas in my mind, creating oat risotto with chanterelles, corn and tarragon.

I followed the same trajectory as in my original chanterelle outing—swishing the mushrooms clean, then sautéing them in butter with a big pinch of salt. When they were soft, though, I took them out of the pan, and added half a cup of steel-cut oats, stirring to coat them in the butter and the mushroom juices. Once the butter was absorbed, I added vegetable stock in half cup measures, letting the oats absorb the liquid fully before adding anymore. In the end, I added about 2 cups, leaving the oats on the stove for about half an hour. The oats could have taken up a bit more liquid, but I wanted them to be toothsome, rather than mushy.

About five minutes before I wanted to stop cooking the oats, I added the chanterelles and half a cup of corn kernels, cut off the cob, letting them simmer and warm through. I added a few sprigs of chopped tarragon, then turned off the heat.

It was, I think, absolutely perfect. Both oats and chanterelles have a sweet nuttiness, and, as I thought, the two flavors blended very well. The corn added another layer of sweetness, but brighter, the butter added depth, and the grassiness of the tarragon grounded the dish firmly in the savory sphere.

We served the risotto with herb-marinated grilled chicken, but I could have happily left the chicken off the plate, so satisfying was the combination of flavors and textures. It was nubbly, soothing, delicious, and made me wish I’d made double the portion I did.
chanterelles

Published in: on August 28, 2008 at 7:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

Colors

One of the many (manymany) benefits of the farmers’ market is the Technicolor burst of summer meals. The colors are brilliant, bright and arresting, drawing you in as they lie there.

Egg Salad
The substitute sunlight of nasturtium blossoms in a morning’s egg salad, accompanied by a midnight dark bowl of blackberries and blueberries.

Dill Salmon
The subtle greens of fresh dill contrasting with the pastel pink of grilled salmon and the earthy depths of cremini mushrooms (not to mention the inevitable nasturtiums on my salad).

Peaches and Cream
Honey-yellow peaches with burnished pink highlights half-hiding a billowing cloud of rich, white cream, freckled with cinnamon.

Blueberry Coconut Crisp
A big white bowl of blueberries, stewed until juicy and glistening, topped with crisp, toasted coconut.

My descriptions are no less purple than the fruit, but it’s hard not to let fly with superlatives when faced with such bounty.

Published in: on August 21, 2008 at 7:45 am  Leave a Comment  

Breakfast of Blossoms

The best thing about buying food at farmers’ markets is that one is much more likely to pick up something that you’ve never tried before. This isn’t an original statement, I know, but it continues to be true, even for people like me, who are a bit too interested in all the different ways of filling their stomachs.

Who needs to stop at regular cucumbers, when one can try lemon cucumbers, Italian cucumbers, Japanese cucumbers, and Korean cucumbers? Why eat nothing but baby greens when the next bag over contains arugula, perilla, shiso or amaranth? Turnips are great, but what about burdock? Strawberries are delicious, but what look: ground cherries! Saskatoons! Black currants! Not everything ends up being to my taste (the Saskatoons were not a hit) but some become new favorites (I don’t think I’ve ever met a root I didn’t like). Sometimes the untried foods aren’t even exotic or unknown, just things I’ve never gotten around to trying.

Enter zucchini blossoms.

Everybody knows about zucchini blossoms—they’ve almost become a cliché of pretentious poseur cuisine. Stuffed with cheese and braised, fried as tempura, poached, the recipes are everywhere. The blossoms are very pretty, but often expensive (after all, each blossom is a squash that will never grow). As intriguing and delicious as the recipes sounded, I had never tried them for one reason: I am cheap.

One recent market day, though, I was under the weather and needed a pick-me-up. In spite of the rather exorbitant price, I splurged on a big bunch of the zucchini blossoms and took them home for lunch. I stuffed them with a spiced goat cheese, simmered them for a few moments in a good broth, and gobbled them up. The combination of the hot, homemade chicken broth and the creamy cheese was perfect for a summer cold, but the strength of their flavors overwhelmed that of the zucchini blossoms themselves. Still—what I could taste was appealing and intriguing, and I resolved to try the blossoms again, but in a more delicate preparation.

The following Saturday, then, I bought another bunch of zucchini blossoms at the market. I didn’t want to eat them until the next morning, so I carefully wrapped the big, healthy bunch in a paper towel, then put it into an open plastic bag and into the lettuce drawer in my refrigerator. (Technically, this crisper drawer has a picture of an apple on it, whereas the other drawer has a picture of a turnip, but I use the apple drawer almost exclusively for lettuce and other greens, and the turnip drawer for everything else).

On Sunday morning, I checked to see if the blossoms needed any washing (in fact, they were pristinely clean), then removed the pistils and chopped the petals from their stems.

Zucchini Blossoms

I roughly tore the blossoms into strips, lightly sautéed them for a few minutes in a flavorless oil, then added three eggs, beaten with nothing more than salt, pepper and a tiny drop of water.
Blossoms in the pan
I let the eggs set on the bottom, then lifted up the edges to let the raw portion flow underneath, creating layers upon layers. In less than five minutes I had a moist, fluffy and perfectly set golden omelet, shot through with the fresh green and deeper orange tones of the blossoms.

Zucchini Blossom Omelet
Indeed, the omelet was a much better way of showing off the flavor of the zucchini blossoms. Unsurprisingly, the blossoms have a flavor strongly reminiscent of zucchini itself, but more elusive, and without the often squishy texture that puts so many people off. The texture of the blossoms, of course, is almost nil, especially after cooking, allowing the flavor to permeate the eggs. The calyx of the flowers has an even stronger flavor of the squash, but with a more toothiness than the blossoms. It’s crisp without being crispy, if that makes any sense; almost like biting into a perfectly fresh slice of ripe zucchini, but brighter, juicier, colder, (the actual temperature notwithstanding) and almost refreshing.

It was a rather austere omelet, given that it contained no butter, milk, or cheese, but the zucchini blossoms gave it a deep and satisfying flavor. The cost may be difficult to absorb, but the benefits are worth it.

Published in: on August 15, 2008 at 7:08 pm  Leave a Comment