mushrooms, and there's toast.

Mushrooms on toast. Mushrooms on toast. Mushrooms on toast! Or, as pictured, mushrooms and toast.

So that didn't work. Nothing I do, no matter how I say it, can make mushrooms on toast sound as though they are all that exciting. But boy, am I excited about them. In fact, they've been all I want to eat these days.

And so, after a too long absence that has me eager to bring you trays of chocolates and sweets, of cakes miles high and swathed in seven-minute frosting, in my way of saying I'm glad to see you, I'm here instead with a plate full of everydayness. But robust everdayness - toasted bread and a tumble of mushrooms, with their tawny edges tanned and glistening.

Though simple, they are far from plain and even farther from boring. From Jamie at Home, by Jamie Oliver, the mushrooms are meaty, substantial and all-around good stuff. 

I made them the first time to share for a November lunch. The next day, I had them again for a solitary late-morning breakfast, free in my singularity to shamelessly drag my toast across the skillet in which the mushrooms had cooked, lest I miss an ounce of their liquor that was left behind. 

That first time we ate them as is, piled on slices of grilled bread, and for the second time I perched a poached egg just so. Another time there were irregular chunks of creamy buffalo mozzarella cozied up on the plate.

Never you mind all of that though, to begin I think it best to go with this dish in its purest - straight up, nothing to get in the way of what we have going on here.

What that exactly is, is mushrooms with attitude. The first succulent bite had me sit up straighter and pull my chair an inch closer to the table.

november lunches

Where I think the draw lies in this dish is in how the the mushrooms are cooked - everything's added in stages to gain the greatest advantage of their qualities. Into a pour of olive oil alone goes the mushrooms, then the garlic, chili and thyme. As they cook, their moisture is released, the aromatics open up and perfume the steam as it puffs from the pan. The liquid condenses soon enough and then it's time to feed in a knob or two of butter, which glosses all, adding richness and roundness. A few drops of lemon, then the transformative ingredient - water - to end. Yes, water.

It's the lynchpin to this whole business of mushrooms on toast, I'm telling you.

That splash of water bubbles up, picking up all the stickiness around the skillet and turning into a surprisingly creamy, absolutely rich gravy. You'll fight for your share. Pick a craggy bread with enough bumps and pockets to catch that sauce and collect it into luscious pools. That's the best way to go.

Since we're chums and catching up, I'll mention that today's toast, the one I'm crummy with right now, is with aged cheddar and chili pepper jam. That one we'll save for another chat. For now, get on those mushrooms.

JAMIE OLIVER'S ULTIMATE MUSHROOM BRUSCHETTA

From the book Jamie at Home (Hyperion, 2008).

Recipe here.

Posted
Authortara
43 CommentsPost a comment
IMG_62342

I won't keep you long because there are strawberries to be eaten and the clock is already tick-tock ticking.

I'll begin with credit where credit is due. What we have here is a recipe from Jamie Oliver, and it's a winner. You take strawberries, lop of their tops so that they're hulled neatly and stand on end like a berried mountain range. You slice a few knobs of stem ginger and pop them in the dish, along with some of their syrup. Then squish out the seeds of a plump vanilla bean over the fruit and toss in the pod after. Last, there's a slosh of Pimm's (No. 1), the gin-based liqueur synonymous with British summer.

I'll stop here for a moment, because the mention of Pimm's makes me weak in the knees. I first came to know it over the summer job that took me through high school. I worked for a theatre company, plays not movies, and each season there was an event that had Pimm's Cup as its signature drink. I can't think of Pimm's without thinking of those wickedly-hot days - the heavy scent of gin, cucumbers and lemon, miles of glasses lined up in rows, full of ice and looking like the most refreshing drink that there ever was.

No. 1 is sunshine and hot shoulders, and the best of those years.

Anyway, back to today, and back to that dish of berries. Tucked under the hottest broiler you can muster, their attentive peaks get lazy in the heat, slouching down and slumping over. They'll be warmed through but not cooked, only enough that the strawberries turn juicy and plush. The preserved ginger has the assertive heat and deep-bellied hum of the June sun, while the suggestion of citrus brought by the Pimm's rings all the high notes.

It's up and down and all around like a roller coaster at the fair. Which is to say, these might be the strawberries to end all strawberries.

I used local fruit, the kind that for 11 months of the year you convince yourself you've imagined in an fit of idealized fancy. And then, blessed be, it is summer and here they are. Fruit ruby to its centre, fragrant in a way that reminds of roses and honey jumbled up together. They are beautiful, yes, but in their irregularity. Nubbled, bumpy - one in our punnet bore a distinct resemblance to a miniature turban squash.

They're strawberries out of Enid Blyton. Rustic and brave - and left whole they have more oomph than is usually attributed to cooked fruit. Good enough that I may have been stingy in my dinner portion one evening, just to leave that much more room for dessert.

But that's just between you and me.

Now, don't dally, off you go while the strawberries are around. See you soon.

melt

GRILLED STRAWBERRIES WITH PIMM'S 

The strawberries are served with softened ice cream, and make sure yours is soft as you want it to further melt into the juices at the bottom of the dish - its texture should match that of the fruit. On top of that is some mashed cookie rubble, and like the crust to a fruit pie it gives foundation to the softness of berry and cream. Finally some mint, which in coincidence always grew beside the strawberries in my childhood garden. Its flavour rubs off unto the berries and seeps into the ice cream very nicely.

Stem ginger in syrup is young, tender ginger that has been peeled then preserved in a sugar syrup.

Recipe, via jamieoliver.com

Notes:

  • I used crushed gingersnaps instead of the shortbread from the recipe - they have a true crunch, rather than the crumble of shortbread, which was what we were looking for. It hardly needs explanation that their flavour boosted and brought a layer of brightness to that of the stem ginger beneath.
Posted
Authortara
Categoriesdessert, summer
44 CommentsPost a comment

In the woods I can see from my window, the ground looks patchwork brown and white; an Appaloosa's coat imposed onto the landscape. Much of the snow remains, but in those places where it has gone, it's revealed the rock and earth beneath.

I am enough of a realist to accept that this most likely won't be the last of the snow, that the earth might soon again be covered, and that spring is still a ways away for us. For today, that glimpse is enough.

Right now I'm content to think of sweaters and wool blankets. But soon, quite soon I think, I'll be longing for the day the snow melts for good. Anxious and fidgety for a trod through that wood in the time of almost spring. Before the shoots begin, when all is brown and filled with possibility.

A walk where each step of rubber-clad foot is followed by the echoed squelch of the mud beneath.

In my mind's eye I see broad-checked flannel and tins of pretty cookies for later. But first, a thermos full of soup to bring warmth to the enjoyable dampness that surrounds. And as of this moment, if I had to decide, it would be mushroom soup that we'd sip and spoon.

I made some yesterday, so even though that picnic upon the forest floor is weeks away, you can still get the general idea of the way I'm thinking.

It has an aroma dense with notes of growth and loam. (Loam is such a good word, stretched out and rounded like a yawn.) Both fresh and dried mushrooms are cooked in a pan with olive oil, butter, onion and garlic. After 20 minutes of cooking, the mushrooms have gone through stages of transformation; first pale and spongy, then wet and a soggy, then as that moisture evaporates the mushrooms turn deeply golden and their texture goes satisfyingly chewy.

A pour of Sherry to deglaze, it sputters and bubbles into a winey syrup that coats the vegetables in gloss. In goes the stock, and all's left to simmer for 20 minutes more. Whirred to a foaming, ethereal purée, the soup is done save for the indulgent dollop of mascarpone right at the end.

And with that, into the woods we go.

One last thing, I'd like to thank Stephanie Levy for asking me to be a part of her Artists Who Blog series. If you'd like to take a look at what we talked about, she's posted my interview on her site.

THE REAL MUSHROOM SOUP
 

From Jamie Oliver, the title's his, too.

Now mushroom soup depends greatly on the mushrooms itself; not only for flavour of course, but also for colour.

The bulk of the fresh mushrooms I used were the bark and black beauties, crimini and shiitakes, with only a handful each of ochre chanterelles and ivory oysters to counter that darkness. A mix favouring the paler varieties would result in a soup with looks more fawn than mouse.

That business on top there, there is purpose to that prettiness. A bit of herbs, croutons torn into buttery crumble, some sautéed mushrooms, together create the ideal counterpoint to the mellow earthiness of the soup; a freshness to the musky depth of its flavour and essential weight against the lightness of the emulsion. Mr. Oliver suggests a tranche of grilled bread instead of croutons, use whichever you like.

The only change I made to the recipe was the addition of Sherry when cooking the mushrooms, leaving out the lemon juice to finish.

Recipe