Sunday, 15 November 2009

The best laid plans ...

This afternoon was marked up for a Serious Start on the first wash of L'Atelier's walls. With pigment, that is - yellow ochre from Provence, and sienna earth from Italy, if you're interested - not with St Marc, the ubiquitous lessive that cleans everything (except plaster dust, of course) and has been a constant feature of my life over the last two weeks as we've attempted to clean up the chantier. That, however, was before John came in with 3 kilos of Rosé-des-Prés (a kind of posh field mushroom).

Now there's only so much fungus that two people can eat at any one time. Especially when they've just been munching their way through the two and a half kilos he brought home three days ago - but, hey, downshifting is downshifting, and foraging is ... fun, and free food. So while we've set aside some to cook for dinner this week, there was nothing for it but to set to and look at how to preserve the rest.

Bottling, I decided, was out. Too complicated, and seems to involve boiling oil. Hmm. Drying? Well, one of the many projects on my list is to make a drying cabinet, but that will have to wait (to use a phrase that seems to form an increasing part of my vocabulary) until all this is over and life is back to normal again ... Some of the smaller mushrooms I flash fried in olive oil with a little garlic and parsley then froze; the rest I decided to turn into a duxelle.

A duxelle is a glorious thing: while the volume reduces, the flavour and intensity increases. If you've never tried it, do - it's very simple, even if it does tie you to the stove for a while. You simply chop finely, mince or - if, like me, life's too short - pulse in the Magimix a good quantity of mushrooms and around a fifth of their weight of onions; fry the onions first in olive oil until they're transparent and start to take on a little colour; then add the mushrooms and stir it all around. At this point you find you have a pan full of wet, unappetising mush, which looks like this:

What you're aiming to do now is to gently simmer out all the liquid until the mixture starts to 'fry'. This will take - er - over two hours if the mushrooms are very fresh (well, I never said it would be fast, did I?). As time goes on, you need to stir the pan more and more often to stop the mixture sticking and burning; you're aiming to reduce the volume usually by around two thirds. Eventually you'll end up with a sort of pâté thick enough for a wooden spoon to stand up in; now season it, and you're done.

So then what? Use it for stuffing; add it to soups and stews (especially good with Puy lentils); add some chopped parsley, garlic and pangritata, then spread it on bruschetta; make beef Wellington; spread it over the pastry base of a mushroom tart before adding the rest of the filling; drape it around pasta; use it as a relish ...

We haven't, so far, done very well at finding any of the big names such as cepes or chanterelles or morilles or girolles nor sadly (and I say this at the risk of tarnishing my already somewhat ropey reputation) the more - er - magical varieties. But that's because we've not had the time to go out looking for them beyond our own back yard, so to speak. When all this is over ...

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