Here comes the mushroom man

November 4, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, while wandering around Kumkapi market, I spotted a man sitting at the side of the road with a shoe box on his lap. The shoe box was full of wild mushrooms of all sizes, shapes, colours, and probably levels of edibility. Clearly mushroom season had started.

Being a huge fungi fan, I was sorely tempted to buy some, but something told me it perhaps wasn’t the most sensible thing to do. And I may well have been right – Suleyman later told me there are occasionally cases of people coming to sticky ends at this time of year, after consuming wild mushrooms that had been picked by someone who doesn’t know their Cantharellus cibarius from their Cortinarius rubellus.

So, I was delighted to see a stall at Fatih Pazar yesterday overflowing with what were clearly carefully selected mushrooms.

A halting conversation with the vendor resulted in the information that this was a selection of field and forest fungi from the region around the city of Bolu, about half-way between Istanbul and Ankara. It’s an area known for natural springs, high mountains and pine forests, so I was hoping its vegetation would reflect that unspoilt environment.

With prices starting at about £3 a kilo, I barely knew where to start. It would have been very easy to walk away with several kilos of mushrooms, but even the greediest of gourmands can consume only so much. So, after examining the fungi fare on offer, I went for what I think are saffron milk caps. (Unfortunately, my Turkish is nowhere near good enough to have come to that conclusion from my chat with the mushroom man, and I had to do some internet research instead – but if anyone knows different, please do tell me.)

My shopping companion, Mireille, and I decided to walk home from the market – which is a good hour away from home – so I had plenty of time to think about what I was going to do with my bag of goodies. By the time I got back, I was starving, and knew exactly what was going to become of my mushrooms – sautéed saffron milk caps with garlic, thyme and lemon juice, atop some toast.

The large meaty mushrooms were perfect for this. They held together well in the frying pan and were strong enough in flavour to take on the garlicky, herby aromas. A squeeze of lemon juice stopped the whole dish from becoming too heavy, but, nonetheless, the results were a hugely satisfying autumnal late lunch.


A food odyssey

March 23, 2010

Last night’s supper was, give or take, three days in the making. Not because of the cooking time of the dish itself, but because I decided to make my own beef stock as the basis for the sauce in the recipe. And, due to various events over the weekend, I didn’t manage to finish it until Monday night.

My plan was to use the two venison fillets I had in the freezer from the previous week’s shop in an adaptation of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recent recipe in The Guardian for oxtail with star anise.

So, on Saturday, I picked up a lovely bag of beef bones from The Ginger Pig, and started to follow Delia Smith’s classic recipe for beef stock. (I have a couple of Delia’s cookery books, and don’t use them all that often, but when it comes to the basics, like stock, she can’t be beaten.)

The first step was to roast the bones with a few vegetables, before simmering them in water. However, once I’d got the roasted bones out of the oven, I realised I didn’t have time to simmer them for the requisite four hours, as I was meeting friends in town for a drink.

I decided I’d make the stock the following morning, then finish off the dish in time to have a late lunch, before heading down to Greenwich for a friend’s wedding reception on Sunday evening.

Unfortunately, Sunday’s plans were somewhat hindered by a truly stupendous hangover, thanks to someone having the clever idea of going on to a nightclub after a few drinks too many. (Erm, actually, it might have been me who had the idea…)

Anyway, I managed to drag myself out of bed in the early afternoon and set the beef stock on to simmer. The smell was absolutely amazing, and was actually quite comforting as I dozed on the sofa for the rest of the afternoon.

However, by the time the stock was finished, there wasn’t enough time for it to cool (which you need to do so you can scoop the solidified fat off the top), before I had to go to Greenwich. (In any case, I wasn’t really in any condition to cook or even eat a rich dish like venison.)

Day three, and by the time I got home from work, the fat was good and solid on top of the stock, was easily scooped off, and I was finally entering the home straights to finishing the dish.

I had thought that I would follow Hugh’s recipe exactly as it was with the oxtail, and let it braise long and slow in the sauce. But, after reading several online recipes for dishes with venison fillet, I realised it would end up as tough as old boots.

So, instead, I seared the fillets, then removed them to a plate. I made the rest of the sauce and let it simmer without the meat for about an hour. Then, after sieving the bits and bobs out of the liquid, I added the venison, which I’d sliced into thick coins, plus a couple of sliced mushrooms.

I just let it simmer for a few minutes, then served it with noodles. I’m not sure the sauce had quite the depth that it would have had if the meat had been in it the whole time. But it was still very tasty. And I’m definitely going to try it with the oxtail – but hopefully without the hangover.

When I was a kid, one of my favourite dishes was my mum’s kidney and mushroom sauté. I’m sure it was probably one of her stand-by meals, but I loved it. Which makes it all the more surprising that I very rarely cook it for myself. So, when I found some forgotten lambs’ kidneys in my freezer a couple of days ago, it made me think of this childhood favourite.

I had some mushrooms in my fridge, and was all set to cook my mum’s sauté when I remembered that, years ago, I once cooked kidneys in a tomato and basil sauce. Now, given the option of a tomato-based sauce or a creamy sauce, I choose the tomato one every time. Not for health reasons, but purely because I adore cooked tomatoes.

So, I fried half an onion, sliced thinly, in some olive oil, along with a chopped clove of garlic. The kidneys were chopped up into fairly small pieces and added to the onion once it was soft. Some sliced chestnut mushrooms followed, then half a tin of tomatoes, a teaspoonful of my pul biber paste from Istanbul, and a little seasoning.

Once it had simmered for 5 minutes or so, I added a few chopped basil leaves, and – just because it was there and needed using up – a handful of chopped parsley.

My mum always served her kidney and mushroom sauté with rice, but I thought, with the tomato and basil, that pasta would be the thing to eat with my version – which it was!

Last night, I wanted one of those super-quick suppers that involve very little thought or effort. Of course, omelettes fit that bill perfectly, and with a leek and some mushrooms in the fridge, I decided that would be my filling.

Until recently, it had never occurred to me to add spices to egg dishes, but they seem to go very well together. I also like adding soy sauce and sesame oil to the beaten eggs to make a Chinese-flavoured omelette, and I thought the leeks and mushrooms would work particularly well with this.

So, I gently fried the sliced leeks and mushrooms in a little vegetable oil, and added some grated ginger and garlic and a chopped red chilli. To two beaten eggs, I added about a dessertspoon of soy sauce and a dash of sesame oil, and when the vegetables were nice and soft, I poured over the eggs.

My intention was to let it cook through, rather like a tortilla, but it became clear very quickly that I would need more eggs to do this. And I’d just used my last ones. So, instead, I flipped it over into an omelette – which is why it looks a bit rough around the edges!

Anyway, it was a quick, filling, tasty supper – and that, really, was the point.

Breakfast bliss…

January 16, 2010

I love Saturday mornings. It’s my favourite time of the week. An early visit to Borough Market is always followed by a long, leisurely breakfast, lots of coffee and the newspaper.

Having more time to cook, my Saturday breakfasts can often turn into fairly extravagant affairs. This morning, I knew exactly what I wanted – a fried egg with some garlicky mushrooms (plus a good handful of parsley), and tortano bread from The Flour Station in Borough Market.

Tortano is an Italian bread made with potato flour, and it’s one of my favourites. Conveniently, The Flour Station makes small(ish) tortano rolls as well as the large rings, which is how they are usually made. And the rolls are precisely the size, texture and flavour that just begs to be topped with a fried egg.

Chinese stuffed marrow

January 15, 2010

I was craving some Oriental flavours last night, so, with half a marrow left in my fridge and a small amount of pork mince in the freezer, I thought I’d do some experimenting.

I’ve only rediscovered marrows very recently. It was one of my few intense dislikes as a child. God knows why, as it isn’t particularly strong-flavoured. But when I saw some big fat ones at Borough Market last autumn for 80p each, the frugal cook in me decided I should give it another go.

I’ve been cooking this highly flavoursome Nigel Slater recipe of pork mince with baked marrow quite a lot, so used it as the basis of my meal last night. After hollowing out the end of the marrow, I filled it with a stuffing of pork mince, onion, mushrooms, grated carrot, garlic, chilli, ginger, soy sauce, fresh coriander and a dash of sesame oil, then put it in a casserole dish with a lid. A little liquid was added to the bottom of the pot, and, with the lid on, it was sort of steam-baked for about 20 minutes.

The result was a yummy combination of sweet marrow, fresh gingery herbiness and a good hot kick of chilli. Another success in the Bare Cupboard Laboratory!

I usually like my steaks nice and simple – charred on the outside, bloody on the inside, and a dollop of Dijon mustard on the side. But, last night, I had some mushrooms in the fridge that were in dire need of being eaten, so instead of just frying them and plonking them next to the steak, I thought I’d make something a bit saucy out of them. So I added them to a sautéed shallot, thinly sliced clove of garlic, and sprig of thyme. Then I splashed some water in the pan to make a bit of liquid, added a teaspoon of mustard (another of my store-cupboard essentials), a grind of salt and pepper, reduced it a little – and a sauce was born…

Thanks to my distinct lack of appetite over the last few days, I also had a number of fresh vegetables lying around beginning to show their age. The answer? Simply steamed romanesco cauliflower and carrots – oh-so tasty and pretty healthy, too.