When I was growing up in Calabria my family never purchased cultivated mushrooms from the supermarket. My parents mastered the secrets of mushroom hunting at an early age. They knew where to look for them and which ones were edible and which were not. We foraged for porcini, chanterelles, oyster mushrooms and many other varieties. Although we live in the San Francisco Bay Area now, my father still manages to find the same mushrooms.
In Calabria we cooked wild mushrooms in many different ways. We grilled them, baked them with a sprinkling of fresh breadcrumbs and herbs, layered them with sliced potatoes, cooked them with tomatoes, and preserved them in oil. I can still taste my grandmother’s wild porcini dish; she would slice them thickly and quickly sauté them with olive oil, garlic and parsley. It is still one of my favorite ways to cook wild mushrooms; I will give you a variation of this recipe below.
A couple of years ago a student asked me to teach a cooking class based entirely on wild mushrooms. The class was so successful that I now offer the class annually at the beginning of November called “A Feast of Wild Mushrooms”. In this class I bring my favorites: porcini, chanterelles, and oyster mushrooms. Here is a basket that I brought to class last week filled with these three types:
This is the only time of the year that they are available at the market, so try them now. For my all-mushroom class I like to purchase them at Monterey Market in Berkeley. They have an extensive selection of mushrooms foraged in California and Oregon.
And please please PLEASE–don’t venture out to pick mushrooms unless you are trained to identify them or are with a mycologist. Some wild mushrooms are poisonous and can lead to severe illness or death.
Here are the porcini mushrooms:
…and some beautiful chanterelles:
…and wild oyster mushrooms that my dad foraged last week!
My cooking class features wild mushrooms from appetizer to dessert. Well, not quite. The dessert just looks like a truffle; but it is a dessert specialty of Calabria called “tartufo di Pizzo”. You will have to wait for the recipe for when my cook book comes out next year. In the meantime, I will share with you, the recipe for an appetizer from the class, that I had in Rome many years ago at a “bruschetteria”, a restaurant where all they serve are large bruschettas and salads. The “appetizer” was an over-sized bruschetta called a “crostone” topped with melted taleggio cheese and mushrooms. I created my own version by topping a bruschetta with wild mushrooms cooked the way my grandmother used to. With this simple technique you can create many dishes. You can toss the sauteed mushrooms in pasta or risotto, or eat them as a side dish with grilled meats.
To make the appetizer as a crostone I like to use Acme Bread pain au levain or as a bruschetta their Italian loaf. As a crostone it is great for a lunch with a nice salad of winter greens.
Brush the bread generously with olive oil and grill or broil on both sides.
Rub with garlic and top each toast with a slice of Taleggio:
Melt the cheese in the oven
Saute the wild mushrooms
and top the crostone with them:
Give it a try and enjoy it as an appetizer or as a light vegetarian meal!
Crostone con i Funghi
Grilled Bread with Sautéed Wild Mushrooms and Taleggio Cheese
Four 3/4-inch-thick slices crusty Italian bread
Preheat a charcoal, gas, or stovetop grill to high heat or preheat broiler with an oven rack positioned about 6 inches below the heat source.
Generously brush both sides of bread with about 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Grill until toasted with a little color on both sides. Transfer to a baking sheet and rub both sides of toast with the cut garlic. Discard garlic. Top each toast with Taleggio and set aside.
Heat the remaining olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over high heat. When oil is hot enough to sizzle a mushroom, add mushrooms and salt. Don’t stir until steam starts rising from sides of pan. Sprinkle with grated/minced garlic and sauté quickly, stirring frequently, just until mushrooms soften, about 3 minutes. Add parsley, stir, and taste for seasoning–add more salt, if necessary. Set aside. (Recipe can be made ahead up to this point.)
Just before serving, place toast under broiler just until cheese melts. Transfer to individual dinner plates, top with mushrooms, and serve immediately with a knife and fork.
Copyright 2006, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.