Making Mushrooms Sexy

Well, not really.  But you know what I mean, don’t you?  Mushrooms, ordinary button mushrooms, that are called “champignons” in Italian (which is of course a French word actually), aren’t exactly thriling now are they.  I can’t imagine people getting all excited about eating a plate of these mushrooms.  They seem to have gone out of fashion – I don’t even see them on Italian menus in family-run restaurants any more.  Sometimes as part of a pizza topping but that’s about it.  I wonder why, poor things.  They are quite tasty after all and surely, unless you hate mushrooms or are allergic to them, you don’t mind having them as a side dish, sautéed in olive oil and garlic and finely minced parsely.  But again, the operative word is “don’t mind” (which of course are two words but let’s not quibble here) as opposed to “hanker after” or “crave”.  Mmmmm.

As my children were growing up, I had to account for differing tastes when it came to vegetables and since I love vegetables myself – all of them I hasten to add – I did not mind putting at least two and usually three vegetable side dishes on the dinner table every evening. (potatoes often being the common denominator).  Favourite daughter can’t bear mushrooms, and might even be slightly allergic to them.  Whereas favourite son likes them, even the lowly button-mushroom kind.  Favourite husband is usually easy to please but he has never waxed lyrical over them.  So the bottom line, now that both kids have left home, is that I rarely cook mushrooms (except for the porcini kind, when they are in season).

I have been boycotting supermarkets for over ten years, a decision I came to after reading the book “Not on the Label – What Really Goes into the Food in your Plate” by British journalist Felicity  Lawrence.  I have been guiding tours around Frascati for almost two years and this piece of information pops into the tour when I show our clients my shopping street and the town’s market.  And I tell them, the way I write to you now, that I cannot get on my moral high horse about this – because food shopping is incredibly easy to do in Frascati and I have access within walking distance to everything I could possibly want (except for fresh coriander – for that I have to go into Rome.  Coriander/cilantro still not big in these parts).  As life would ironically have it,  however, it turns out that I have had to  frequent supermarkets on a regular basis (weekly!) ever since my mother stopped driving last year and I have to take her shopping (she turns 93 in December bless her).  I kid you not, I have been more often to the supermarket this past year than I have all together in the previous ten or more.  Oh – and by the way it’s not the idea of a supermarket that I am against.  It’s the fact that they don’t pay the producers well.  That and lots more but let’s drop the subject now and get back to the recipe for today’s post.

So there I was looking at the fresh foods at the supermarket with her the other day and turning my nose up disdainfully.  The aubergines/eggplants looked okay, I suppose.  The salads all came in plastic bags.  I’ll admit the cucumber looked good.  But for the rest I was really underwhelmed.  I went for the button mushrooms in a desultory bid to avoid coming home empty-handed.  I had to make dinner after all.

By the time I did get home, my husband told me he’d be late that night … so it was a case of my being on my own.  And that’s when I decided I would make a pasta dish with these champignons and let’s see if I could raise the bar here, and make them a bit special?

In the fridge I had some fresh tomatoes that I had cooked down in order to make a tomato sauce, and which I had put through a food mill.  A home-made tomato sauce is always good for adding ooomph to a recipe.  For the rest it was a case of the usual suspects: olive oil, garlic, fresh herbs.

On the other hand, since I WAS trying to make this a bit special, I knew I had to bring out some big guns.  Follow me.

 

0

The pasta brand. This pasta brand.  Verrigni.  One of the best in Italy, full stop.  From Abbruzzo.

3A secret ingredient – dried porcini mushrooms.  Please ignore that lovely onion from Tropea in the foreground.  I used that to cook something else.

4I poured boiling water over the funghi porcini and let them soak until they were tender.

5Once they were totally rehydrated, I used a pair of scissors to cut them up.  And don’t even think about throwing away that porcini-infused water!  That’s what was to give the dish a bit of ooomph.

6

Not too shabby either was this home-made tomato salsa I had prepared the day before. I skinned the tomatoes, chopped them up very roughly, and just cooked them down for about 15 minutes.  Afterwards I put them through a food mill and added salt and olive oil (extra virgin olive oil, naturally).

1

The mushrooms soaking in a bowl of water.  They needed a good soak, it was very hot that day.

2

The same mushrooms, a little later, roughly cut up and ready to be cooked.

TIME TO COOK

I put the water onto the boil for the pasta.

7

I am recently very much ‘into’ this big frying pan – don’t ask me why.  I certainly didn’t need anything this big for my recipe but for some reason this was the only pan that ‘spoke’ to me that evening.   Made me feel a little cheffy, I suppose.  As you can see there is plenty of garlic, and plenty of olive oil.  There are, also, a few pepper corns (no, they are not mouse droppings).  And the green herb that you see is what we call “mentuccia” and which, I think is what is known as “calamint” in English (the official name in Latin is Clinopodium nepeta).  It is very strong, very.  Think mint on steroids.  And it goes wonderfully well with mushrooms. You could always substitute with marjoram, or tarragon, or thyme, or mint or even plain parsely.  Mentuccia is very easy to grow (I grow don’t have green fingers, trust me).

8I had the garlic cooking on a stronger heat that I would normally use.

9The minute the garlic started to turn golden, I added the mushrooms.

10And shortly after I added the porcini mushrooms and the water in which they had been soaking.

11Here you see everything bubbling away over a high heat.

12Time to cook the pasta too.

13I now added my tomato salsa.

14A thick slice of a beautiful lemon from the Amalfi Coast (they are famous for their lemons there).

15I tasted the sauce, added some salt, a bit more mentuccia and … yes … even some freshly squeezed lemon juice.  A little at a time.  A little goes a long way.

16I added a little bit of freshly grated pecorino cheese and switched the heat off.   The cheese melted easily even with the heat switched off.

17When the pasta was ready, I drained it directly  into my beefy saucepan and turned on the heat to a fierce temperature as I mixed in the sauce with the pasta.  I even did a bit of showing-off tossing – but couldn’t photograph that of course.

18I served it with some freshly grated parmigiano (parmesan).

19I added some chilli flakes just after I took this photo because I like a bit of heat.

I thought it was rather nice, thank you very much.  See?  There WAS  a way to make button mushrooms sexy after all.  Or so I thought.

The next day, while I was away, my husband had some leftovers for lunch.  When I got back, I enquired as to his liking of the dish.  He scrunched up his nose, took in a deep breath and pronounced it “unconvincing”.  I mean, he ate a whole plate of the stuff but it wasn’t exactly ‘good’ according to him.  He wasn’t being mean, by the way, just offering an honest opinion.

Yet.  You can imagine how crestfallen I felt.

“Did you add freshly grated parmigiano to it?” I asked.  He answered that no, he had not.

That must have been it then, I said to myself, trying to cheer myself up.  Ah well, you win some, you lose some.

PS – if you leave the cheese out, this recipe is fit for vegans.

PPS – It’s always a good idea to add some lemon juice to mushroom soup too.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/mushroom-soup-for-parties/

PPPS – Here is a little background on Mint (https://www.summerdownmint.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Food-Wine-Sept-2011.pdf)

More Mint Mythology
In Roman mythology Minthe was a
lovely young nymph who caught
the eye of Pluto, the ruler of the
underworld. When his wife Persephone found out about his love
for the beautiful nymph, she was
enraged and changed Minthe into
a lowly plant, to be trodden underfoot. Pluto couldn’t reverse Persephone’s curse, but he did soften
the spell somewhat by making the
smell that Minthe gave off all the
sweeter when she was trodden
upon. The name Minthe has
changed to Mentha and become
the name of the herb, mint.
In ancient Greece, mint was used
in funerary rites, together with
rosemary and myrtle, not simply
to offset the smell of decay but
mint was an element in the fermented barley drink called the
kykeon that was an essential brew
for participants in the Eleusinian
mysteries, which offered hope in
the afterlife for initiates.

 

 

7 thoughts on “Making Mushrooms Sexy

  1. The little button mushrooms here in London are usually quite tasteless; maybe some organic ones if you can find them better. But I like your dish and the dried porcini always add a good oomph to dishes. I’m sure I would have appreciated this for supper 🙂

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  2. I tend to use chestnut mushrooms that I cook until their water has evaporated and then I sort of frying them a little… rather like them actually. Or I slice them thinly and marinate in oil and lemon for some time and then, squeezing them of their water, I dress again ….

    … on supermarkets: I admit, I used to like them, when living in Italy and I still do. I would shop everywhere: shops, markets and supermarkets. The ones in Milano, esselunga and coop, were generally very good actually.

    UK supermarkets, even Waitrose, much sadder in comparison and not remotely close in terms of quality (especially as for fresh food). I have not read the book u mention, but, from what I can understand (I have just checked on line), it exposes the bad practices of UK supermarkets. I assume some of the arguments would be valid also for Italian supermarkets, but I wonder if stuff bought from shops, especially fruit and veg, is much different… I mean: eventually shops do have (generally) to buy from wholesale markets (mercati generali) and here, one would find perhaps the same issues: food coming from dodgy growers, badly paid workers issues ecc….

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  3. Funnily enough I find the Italian supermarkets rather sad in comparison with the English (Waitrose) ones! or with some USA ones. They ‘smell’ too, of some kind of detergent I suppose. Maybe, since you mention Esselunga, you are speaking of Milan, or your days in Milan. Here in and around Rome area it’s all about the French supermarket Carrefour, they have a monopoly. There is a relatively new line called Elite – the name says it all but guess what, it really is a cut above. CONAD is okay. They tell me that the COOPs are the best but there aren’t any in my mother’s vicinty. Anyway re supermarkets in general – you are correct in your assumption, it’s all supermarkets not just British ones.
    Supermarkets are a brilliant idea and are needed, of course – how else are food needs for masses of people to be met? We don’t all live in a village. But they are always mean mean mean to the people who produce fruit and vegetables and olive oil. My to-go to olive oil is Quattrociocchi, and it has won many prizes. The owner has told me that he refuses to sell to supermarkets because they want to bring the price down to ridiculous levels (including Mr EATALY – another place I have boycotted in Rome even though I think he is a brilliant businessman).
    Anyway, the bottom line for me where fruit and veg are concerned is that the markets around Frascati sell much better quality stuff and at a lower price too – most of the time. I get my meat from my butcher(s). My cheeses and charcuterie etc from the Pizzicagnolo. My wines from the enoteca – and yes, his prices are lower than the supermarkets !!!! The bread from the bakery. The coffee, even, from a little store in town. And they are all happy to greet me and make small talk and the community is kept alive. And in case you think I have nothing to do all day long, you’d be wrong. Very busy lady and am strapped for time very often. Sometimes I will order over the telephone, and pick the stuff up later. Everyone teases me because I always seem to be in a hurry (I am !!!). At any rate, there is a rapport between the vendors/shops and me. I see only hang-dog faces at the supermarket. I make a point of being extra nice to the people at the till because I feel so sorry for them. Anyway, times are a-changing and in a good way I feel. Meno male!
    Love your blog Stefano, apologies for not commenting enough and thank you for your commenting on mine. 🙂

    https://www.gamberorosso.it/notizie/food-coop-in-italia-come-funziona-il-supermercato-autogestito/?utm_term=10274+-+Anche+l%E2%80%99Italia+scopre+le+Food+Coop.+Dopo+Camilla%2C+il+modello+si+moltiplica%3A+da+Parma+a+Cagliari&utm_campaign=NL+GIORNALIERA+ITA&utm_medium=email&utm_source=MagNews&utm_content=1606+-+858+%282019-07-11%29&fbclid=IwAR2Z_p_nXN6fCFws1SDhZdua5phIA5CvMGQO5dt4KiKhGBcxe_izbvAoUvk

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    1. grazie JO, lovely comment. I will read that article.
      it looks as if carefour is conquering italy: to be fair, my carefour in central Milano was really good. But I agree: independent shops also have an essential social function and without them, communities die. this is happening in Italy too, of course: here in the UK it has been happening for decades (the fall of the hight street). Yes, I have heard about eataly: at the same time, I am honest, I will be grateful when they open here in London actually because they offer things that would be otherwise impossible to find and that I will be happy to use. In Italy, I hardly used it, preferring to use local shops and markets and supermarkets. I suspect there is a big division between North and Central – South Italy, also in terms of supermarkets: Esselunga and Coop and Conad In Milano can be very good.
      thanks for ur kind words re my blog (and no, I did not assume u are a do-nothing lady spending all day shopping for food 🙂 )
      stef

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  4. What a great way to add layers of flavors to delicious mushrooms! I love them but they need a bit of a helping hand I find and what delicious company! 🙂

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  5. That little trick of mixing button mushrooms with dried porcini and their soaking liquid is an excellent one. I learned it some years back, I think in one of Marcella Hazan’s books (?)

    I admire your decision to avoid supermarkets but sadly it’s not one that would be viable here in most parts of the US, at least not year round. (New York, with its many corner shops, is the only city that comes to mind where it might still be possible.) Around these parts, in the summer one might just manage to pull it off, if you were willing to do without certain items like bananas and pineapples. Nice to know there are still places where supermarkets are an option, not a necessity!

    Having said that, I have to say that my memory of Italian supermarkets (over 10 years ago now, so bear that in mind) are rather positive. The variety and quality are certainly miles beyond anything you can find here in the US, even in the more upscale chains. It was my go to option back in Italy, in fact, for the convenience, especially when we moved out to Castel di Leva. But now I want to read that book…

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