I like mushrooms. When I'm in the mood for a meatless meal, 'shrooms come about as close as any vegetable matter can to substituting for the sensory characteristics that I seek in meat. There's a good reason why the portabello on a bun - the "vegetarian hamburger" - has earned a popular place on the bistro menu.
And when it comes to matching vegetarian fare with wine, the combination of mushrooms and Pinot Noir is one of the best meatless marriages around, ranking right up there with such carnivorous combos as lamb and Cabernet or lobster and Chardonnay.
Today let's talk about a mushroom-cooking procedure - not a full recipe but a building block, a module that can be dropped into many a recipe - that has become one of my standards.
It's based on a simple premise: Domestic white mushrooms are easily available all year 'round, and they're cheap; but they are delicate verging on bland. Dried porcini mushrooms, also easy to acquire at any time of year, boast a delicious wild-mushroom flavor that borders on intense; but a little of it goes a long way, and they're expensive. Really expensive by weight - a local purveyor offers them for $39.95 a pound - although this comes into perspective when you consider that a fraction of a single ounce makes a generous portion for two in most recipes.
This procedure blends a serving of domestic mushrooms and a ration of reconstituted porcini in a combination that infuses the porcinis' intense wild-mushroom flavor into the cooked white 'shrooms.
INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)
1/4 ounce (8 grams) dried porcini mushrooms, or to your taste and budget
1. Put the hot water into a measuring cup or small bowl and stir in the dried porcini. Leave to steep for 15 to 30 minutes or until the mushrooms are fully reconstituted. Lift out the mushrooms with a slotted spoon and rinse them to ensure that no sand or grit remains. Strain the soaking liquid through cheesecloth or a paper towel and reserve.
2. While the porcini are soaking, rinse and dry the white mushrooms. (I'm not of the school that argues against wetting mushrooms ... I don't find that it hurts them, and frankly, I don't know where they've been, but I have my suspicions.) Trim the woody ends of the stems or pull out and discard the stems entirely if you prefer. You can leave smaller mushrooms whole, or half, quarter or thickly slice larger mushrooms.
3. Mince the garlic. Put the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, and when it's hot sautee the minced garlic just until it turns translucent. Reduce heat to medium, stir in the mushrooms, add a little salt and black pepper, and sautee until they "sweat" and start to turn limp. You can add a little more oil, mushroom liquid or water to the skillet if they start to stick (a nonstick skillet will reduce the need for this), but if you're careful, the mushrooms should contain enough natural moisture to cook without additional liquid.
4. As soon as the mushrooms have sweated, stir in the reconstituted porcini. Then add the strained mushroom water, a little at a time, and continue cooking until it is reduced to a couple of teaspoons of dark, intensely flavored liquid. At the point the mushrooms will all be very tender, and the deep porcini flavor will have infused the white mushrooms. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.
The finished product can be served as is over pasta or rice as is, kicked up with a cream or cheese sauce, filled into an omelet or frittata, or used as your ingredient in just about any recipe that calls for mushrooms. I most recently made it into a creamy pasta sauce by stirring the finished mushrooms into a small amount of part-skim ricotta cheese that I gently heated and thinned with a little of the porcini-soaking liquid, then served over short (penne) pasta.
WINE MATCH: As noted, there's no match for mushrooms like Pinot Noir. I served the variation above with two good Burgundies, one low-end and one mid-range, the recently reviewed Domaine Maume 1998 Gevrey-Chambertin ($24.99) and Domaine Roulot 1998 Monthelie ($9.99)
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Copyright 2003 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.
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