A big “Thank You” goes out today to fellow blogger Brittany Angell for including my (rather incomplete) list of wild mushrooms with the summer foods featured on her recipe contest page.
As it turns out, I got the info to Brittany in the nick of time. Summer mushroom season began in earnest here in New Jersey this week.
Now I realize that to many folks just the thought of finding and eating wild mushrooms sends shivers down the spine. That’s not an altogether inappropriate response – make the wrong choice with a mushroom and you will be in serious trouble. Also, summertime forests can be intimidating. There are bees and mosquitoes and slippery rocks. You can get lost. Hiking gets you sweaty. So, if you never want to go out there with basket in hand, I don’t blame you. But if the prospect of free, exotic foods, and the colorful, bizarre wonders of the third kingdom intrigue you, stay with me a while.
First, however, I want to repeat: when it comes to wild mushrooms a wrong choice will get you in serious trouble. That could mean: Dead. No matter where you live there are mushrooms that WILL kill you. So the first rule of wild mushrooms is, if you can’t ID it with absolute certainty (“All the way down to species,” my friend Paul Sadowski likes to say) never eat it. Yes, this means you have to learn some things. You won’t learn them from this blog, either. You need to find an experienced and cautious mushroom collector to teach you. The best way is by joining a mycology club (mycology is the study of fungi). There’s many throughout the world. NAMA is North America’s umbrella organization – click the hotlink to find a local club.
OK, back to the world of gluten-free food.
Here’s an interesting thought: despite having members that can kill, sicken, or trip you out, the fungi kingdom rates extremely low on food allergy lists. Perhaps that’s because so few people eat widely in the kingdom, or perhaps there’s other reasons – who knows. One thing I do know: in the often-bland world of gluten-free savory treats, mushrooms are a welcome exception.
Of these, one of the most tasty is Craterelles fallax or the Black Trumpet.
Trumpets are a fungal oddity. Seeing them for the first time many folks think they’re flowers – until, that is, they crush them underfoot and are surrounded by an aroma that’s richly ‘shroom but spiked with apricot. Black trumpets are small – rarely taller than 6” – vase-shaped, thin fleshed, and sometimes tinted with “blooms” of red, white or yellowish-orange. Look at them closely and you’ll see what appears to be a rash. Crumble one and hold it to your nose and the essence (to fungal-philes) is heavenly.
Black Trumpets are among the strongest-flavored of wild mushrooms. This is a good thing, because their thin flesh means a bushel weighs just a few pounds. It means, though, that you must be careful when you cook with them. Black Trumpets easily overpower a dish.
(Some facts: There are look-alikes, so, once again, don’t go out and cut things unless you know what you are doing. Black Trumpets are often sold in specialty stores and farmers markets. They dry very easily and are a cinch to re-hydrate; thus you can often buy them year-around. Bugs can inhabit them, but worms, the bane of wild mushrooms, are rare. The biggest problem with finding them is … finding them. Trumpets are spectacularly hard to see.)
|Pile of trumpets with chanterelles for visual relief. Picked July 1.|
When a good Black Trumpet season hits, the bounty can be stupendous. Then the problem becomes what the **bleep** to do with them all. I have two storage strategies: making Black Trumpet Butter, and drying. Both are easy, although the preparation is tedious.
To dry trumpets, brush off any grit, split the bigger ones and shake out the “guests”, lay them on the racks of a food dryer (Click to see the dryer I use), and run it at 125F for 4 – 8 hours. I like to put the results in zip-lock bags and freeze them overnight, just to be certain any insects are dead. Stuck in my pantry, dried trumpets have proven themselves tasty up to 5 years, though they do lose flavor over time.
Black trumpet butter requires about half a bushel of mushrooms and a pound of unsalted butter, divided into four sticks. Remove grit and guests and chop the mushrooms fine. Using a big frying pan, melt one stick of butter over medium heat while allowing the other three to soften on your counter top. Sauté the mushrooms in the butter using low to moderate heat 8 minutes by the clock (It’s impossible to tell when a black thing is raw, cooked or burnt). Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Using a food processor, process cooked mushrooms and the remaining three sticks of butter until you have a fine gray paste. Taste it. No, don’t eat ALL of it right now! Just imagine smearing it on fresh corn-on-the cob, blending it into omelettes, slathering it on Luce’s Gluten-Free Artisan Bread REALLY “Rye” toast. NOTE: Keep only a small amount in the refrigerator (it spoils) and freeze the lion’s share.
However, neither drying nor black trumpet butter is the recipe I want to share today. Rather, it’s my take on “Black and White,” A terrific mushroom recipe I first spotted in the New York Times. The classic approach involves white corn meal mush and Tellagio cheese. I Hispanicized the dish, using mote corn and sharp cheddar.
We love Black and White in this house. When I texted my wife from the woods with “Huge Trumpet cache” her response was “BLACK AND WHITE!!!”.
|Ingredients for Black and White|
Black Trumpet Mushroom and Mote Corn “Blanco y Negro”
@ 2 quarts fresh black trumpet mushrooms
1/2 cup dry white mote corn (available in many Latin-American supermarkets)
1 1/2 – 3 1/2 cups water
1/2 stick butter
@ 4 OZ heavy cream
8 oz extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 small shallot
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
|Creamy, cheese-y, delicious...|
Several hours before cooking, add 1 cup water to the corn, microwave to the boiling point, then set aside. Corn will expand.
When it is time to cook, process the corn in a food processor, grinding it enough to produce both fine paste and larger chunks. Be sure that all grains are split at least once.
Finely chop the shallot and set aside.
Brush away grit from the black trumpets, split, and shake out any twigs or “guests”. Chop finely.
In a large saucepan, add corn paste, nutmeg, salt and @ 1 cup water and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer. If porridge is very thick add another cup of water. Allow to simmer, stirring frequently to prevent sticking and burning.
While corn cooks, melt butter in a large, heavy skillet. Use medium heat to sauté shallots until translucent. Reduce heat to medium-low, add trumpets and sauté 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and set aside.
Add more water to porridge if necessary, then add cream. Taste from time to time. When corn is tender and creamy, remove from heat. Stir in cheese, and stir to incorporate. Add trumpets and stir to incorporate. Serve immediately.
(Leftovers keep well in the refrigerator, although the porridge “sets”. A few minutes in simmering milk re-integrates it.)