Thursday, January 30, 2014

Dark Romance

They prefer to live in the dark.  Always.
And spend their days in the gloomiest places.
They never venture out into the noonday sun, and flourish where others have died.

Earthy and sublime.
Bringers of death and sustainers of life.
Full of contradictions and yet, so simple in the way they complete the cycle of life.
They are both loved, reviled and feared, and sometimes, all at the very same time.

And yet, I really do love them so.

It may be a lot to forgive, but sometimes the heart is stronger than the mind.
They have always been, to me, and many others, irresistible,
Even as they embody those final words
Heard over many an open grave –

Ashes to ashes and dust to…mushrooms.

Once planted in the catacombs of Paris,
They thrived among the dead,
And created a hunger within the living,
For this taste of earth on their daily bread.

Neither a plant nor animal, they grow without soil or light.
Lacking roots or leaves or flowers or seeds,
These Egyptian plants of immortality,
Fit only for the mouths of pharaohs and gods.

From trumpet-like Chanterelles, fleshy and firm,
With the scent of fresh apricots, warmed in the sun,
To the woodsy Shiitakes, meaning "oak fungus" in Japan,
For that's where you’ll find them, if you look in the wild.

Then there’s Hen of the Wood, with its earthy, gamey flavors,
It’s known as “maitake” or “dancing mushrooms” in Japan.
Sheepshead or ram’s head are other names that it goes by,
When sold in loose clusters, full of soft, feathery caps.

While whitish and fan shaped is the mushroom called Oyster,
With the odor and flavor of a delicate perfume.
Since it grows, stair step like, along many a tree’s sides,
it's acquired the dreamy nickname – "Angel's Wings."

While in Italy you'll find their beloved Porcini,
"Little Piglets," so-called, for their bulky stems.
Chocolatey brown and aromatically meaty,
To soups, stews and pastas,
They’re added and prized.

Then there’s Portabella or Portabello,
It doesn't matter how you say it,
Since whatever you call it, will do.
With large chewy caps, they’re ideal for grilling,
And are perfect as a meat substitute.

Our Italian family of mushrooms now grows ever larger,
With Crimini mushrooms to add to the mix.
You may find it surprising, but they're only young portabellas,
Which is why their nickname, "Baby Bella," sticks.

And finally, we arrive at the White Button Mushroom,
That was planted long ago in the catacombs of France.
"Champignon de Paris," is another name that it goes by,
But it's only a younger version of a crimini, by chance.

So let’s celebrate the darkness of winter with mushrooms,
Sauté them in butter on these cold, icy nights,
Creamy Brandy Mushroom Soup would be good about now,
Just perfect for a cold winter's night.


Serves 4

1 pound crimini mushrooms
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon black pepper (freshly cracked)
1 tablespoon shallots (peeled, minced)
2 tablespoons butter, divided

2½ cups chicken broth
1½ cups whole milk
2½ tablespoons potato starch
1 tablespoon water

½ cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons brandy

Clean the mushrooms with a paper towel, if needed, then slice lengthwise into thirds.
Transfer them to a bowl & gently mix in the lemon juice, thyme and black pepper.
Combine the potato starch and water in a separate bowl and set aside.

In a large saucepan set over medium high heat, add half the butter.
When the butter is foamy and melted, add the shallots and cook briefly, before adding half the mushrooms.

Sauté the shallots and mushrooms until lightly browned, then transfer to a clean bowl.
Repeat process with remaining butter and mushrooms.

Add the chicken broth and milk to the now empty saucepan and bring just to a boil.
Stir to recombine the potato starch and water before adding it, stirring constantly, to the bubbling mixture.

Once thickened, reduce the heat to low and add the sautéed mushrooms to the soup, along with the heavy cream and brandy.  Continue cooking until soup is hot and bubbly.

Serve with crusty, toasted bread rubbed with garlic cloves.

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