I’ll always be grateful to my parents for teaching me to recognize different kinds of wild mushrooms. In an extreme case, it’s a survival skill – my daughter who is currently obsessed with the Hunger Games series, commented how strange it was that although the heroine forages for edible plants and shoots deer with a bow, there’s never any mention of edible mushrooms.
But under less extreme circumstances, foraging for mushrooms is a way to get a gourmet meal, for free. My parents are both avid mushroom lovers and I was taken for mushroom foraging expeditions when I was still in the pram. I did not really cooperate – my mother says that every time she’d bend down to pick a mushroom and thus disappear from my view, I started screaming.
These days I don’t scream in the woods, not even when I find a beautiful cep like this one:
Last Sunday, a beautiful autumn day, we took the kids for a walk in the woods. We foraged for chestnuts and mushrooms. My daughter found the most mushrooms which led her to consider picking and selling mushrooms as an alternative career path.
At home we made mushroom soup, the kind of mushroom soup that consists mainly of mushroom and little else, the kind of soup that’s so thick with mushrooms that you can practically stand up your spoon in it. Because when the basic ingredients are this good, you don’t want distractions.
You can make this soup with less wild mushrooms too, just be sure to use the dried porcini as they’ll intensify the flavour.
Note: I’m sure you know this, but still: do not pick any mushrooms that you cannot positively identify! In this case, mistakes can be deadly.
The real mushroom soup
From Jamie Oliver: Jamie’s Dinners
Jamie Oliver recommends a mixture of mushrooms like chanterelles, girolles, trompettes de mort, shitake, oyster. Ours were mostly different kinds of ceps. Use whatever you can get.
a small handful of dried porcini
600g ( 1 lb 6oz) mixed fresh wild mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
a knob of butter
a handful of fresh thyme, leaves picked
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 litre (4 ½ cups) vegetable stock, preferably organic
a handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
Place the porcini in a small dish, add boiling water just to cover, and leave to soak. Get a large casserole-type pan nice and hot, then add a good couple of lugs of olive oil and your fresh mushrooms. Stir around very quickly for a minute, then add your garlic, onion, butter and thyme and a small amount of seasoning. After about a minute you’ll probably notice moisture cooking out of the mushrooms and at this point add half of your porcini, chopped up, and the rest left whole. Strain the soaking liquid to remove any grit, and add it to the pan. Carry on cooking for about 20 minutes until most of the moisture disappears.
Season to taste, and add your stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for around 20 minutes. Remove half the soup from the pan and whiz it up to a purée, then pour it back in, adding the parsley and mascarpone, and seasoning carefully to taste.