BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Dirty Diamonds

They lurk on the fringes of civilization, just beyond the beaten trail, breeding and multiplying rapidly under the cover of darkness. Few take notice of their growing forces, and those who do rarely understand the implications. Call it a parasite, call it invasive, but I just call it dinner.

Chanterelle mushrooms are prized by umami-lovers the world over, fetching hefty prices at market due to their untamed ways. Like many of the greatest culinary treasures, chanterelles have never successfully been cultivated, demanding that the hungry hordes hunt and forage by hand for such this rarefied prize. A risky venture for the uninitiated, mushroom collection can quickly go awry with just one wrong identification. As a novice myself, the first piece of advice I would give for any fungus fanatics is to go with someone who knows. Even if I knew what I was looking for on my first expedition, I would have bypassed those bright orange caps for fear of culling something genuinely poisonous. Chanetelles succeed in making themselves look quite fearsome at first glance.

Knowing what to look for is one thing, and knowing where to look is another entirely. The best spots are just beyond the trampled woodland trails, amongst fallen trees and in soft, damp soil. In fact, these water-loving creatures are most likely to spring up after a decent rain, so brace yourself for muddy messy conditions. Poke under leaves and dig around when you find a patch; there may very well be more hidden within nearby shifting earth.

Chanterelles vary greatly in size, but rarely grow so strong that they need to be forceably cut from the ground. Slip your fingers underneath the cap to support it before gently pulling upwards. It should easily yield under pressure. Stash your treasures in a breathable cloth or compostable plastic bag.

Oh, did I mention mud? Yes, prepare yourself for some serious mud-slinging in the most literal sense possible. Wear boots, long pants, work gloves, and absolutely nothing you care about wearing again. Not only will you emerge caked in filth, but naturally, your mushrooms will as well. Knock off as much dirt as possible in the field and immediately hose them down when you get home. Take a paring knife to shave down stems and cut out any iffy pieces. Let them air dry, then wash them again. Then take a tooth brush to scrub away more of the particles stuck in the frilly caps. Dry, and then once more for good measure, wash them again before cooking. Don’t fear the water; larger caps can actually be squeezed out much like sponges to expel extra liquid.

Once you’re reasonably satisfied that you won’t get a mouthful of soil with your meal, process the mushrooms immediately. Fresh chanterelles are extremely fragile and will deteriorate rapidly. Your best bet is to chop them roughly and saute in a dry skillet to express the extra water. Once the surrounding liquid has evaporated, stash the pieces in fridge or freezer for more long term storage. Alternatively, you can then transfer them into a dehydrator to get crispy dices that can be stored at room-temperature, or ground to a powder for seasoning.

Side note: Never eat wild, foraged mushrooms raw, for obvious reasons. Just don’t risk it.

The greatest way to honor these noble spores, however, is to eat them right away. My favorite approach is to slice them thick before baking lightly in the oven merely to concentrate their inherent umami. Use these slabs to top just about anything; tofu scrambles, creamy pastas, and of course, pizzas the world over.

What follows is not actually a recipe but a guideline for my current quick-fix chanterelle indulgence. If you should ever be so lucky to uncover a trove of wild, edible mushrooms, the best thing you can do is to let them shine. In this application, their earthy flavors are accentuated by the deep, caramelized sweetness of roasted garlic, a subtle hit of rosemary, and woodsy smoked tomatoes. Any and all ingredients entirely interchangeable based on availability and personal preference. Just don’t overthink it, celebrate your wild food find, and enjoy your edible plunder to the fullest.

Chanterelle Flatbread Pizza

1/2 – 3/4 Pound Fresh Chanterelle Mushrooms, Cut into 1/4-Inch Slices
1 Head Roasted Garlic
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Dried Rosemary
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Flatbread or Small Par-Baked Pizza Crust
1/4 Cup Smoked Julienne Cut Sun-Dried Tomatoes
2 Tablespoons Chopped Toasted Pecans
Arugula, Pea Shoots, or Mache

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Arrange your sliced mushrooms in a single layer on one or two baking sheets and cook gently, rotating the sheets every 20 minutes or so, for 40 – 60 minutes. At first, the sheets may appear to flood with water, but don’t panic! Allow the mushrooms to continue baking until the liquid has evaporated.

Remove the mushrooms, let cool for 10 minutes before handling, and raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees.

Peel all the cloves of garlic and place them in a small bowl with the oil, salt, rosemary, and pepper. Rough mash with a fork until spreadable but still chunky.

Place the flatbread or crust on a clean baking sheet and smear it liberally with the garlic spread. Sprinkle the baked mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, and pecans evenly on top. Transfer the whole thing to the oven and bake just until hot and crisp; 8 – 12 minutes.

Finish with a handful of your favorite greens, slice, and serve immediately.

Makes 2 – 4 Servings

Printable Recipe

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Eat the Weeds

While tech geniuses and high-powered CEOs across the city shell out $9.99 per pound for limp romaine and iceberg, a veritable open bar of salad greens sits mere blocks away, completely free for the taking. I’m talking about the wild foods growing in just about every corner of San Francisco, although most people would regard them as merely weeds or even invasive pests. Foraging may sound like an implausible venture in the middle of San Francisco, and yet right there on just the outskirts of Golden Gate Park, scores of not only edible but wholly delicious plants are thriving, hidden in plain sight. Furthermore, these greens are packed with more nutrition than their pale, cultivated brethren could dream of.

I’m far from an expert and was grateful for a bit of guidance myself, so if you’re new to the concept, definitely enlist an a more seasoned forager to help identify your discoveries. It needs to be said that foraging for wild foods is not without its pitfalls, of course. Before diving deep into the urban wilds, bear in mind:

1. It’s illegal, at least in California and most parts of the US, to take anything from public property. Whether or not this is enforced is an entirely different matter, and your mileage may vary.

2. It’s poisonous, at least in some cases, due to polluted soil. The best places to find wild edibles are typically in disturbed patches of earth, which often means near highways or construction sites, which can mean that there are some unsavory things being absorbed by the plants. In parks, they may be sprayed with herbicides, so be very aware of how the areas that you forage are maintained.

3. It’s poisonous– Really. There are some cruel look-like weeds that may seem benign and taste quite delicious, but are genuinely harmful or even deadly. Know what you’re picking up before you think about touching it.

Now, don’t you all want to run out there and go foraging with me? In case I haven’t scared everyone off, just take a gander at the plunder one can take away from a mere 100-yard stroll through the outskirts of grand Golden Gate Park.

Common mallow, one of the most abundant edible weeds where I began my search and a favorite new discovery of the day, they possess thickening powers similar to okra when cooked but are incredibly delicious eaten raw as well. The immature seed pods, also known as “green cheese wheels,” are the best parts. Crunchy and refreshing, just pluck them off the stem and enjoy. The whole plant, from stem to leaf, is edible and delicious.

Cleavers have Velcro-like hairs lining their leaves which gives them a slightly prickly texture, but that is minimized when crushed, chopped, or blended. Also quite tasty both raw and cooked it’s an especially good addition in green smoothies. They’re also fun to throw at your friends because they’ll stick to your clothing.

Black nightshade sounds like something you should avoid at all costs, but is actually related to the potato. In this case, the ripe fruit is the only part that should be eaten. The leaves contain solanine, a toxin that, in great enough quantity, can cause some serious gastrointestinal distress.

Oxalis has a sour, tart flavor, which has given it the nickname of “sourgrass.” Both the flowers and leaves are edible and highly nutritious. It contains an impressive amount of vitamin c, but should be used in small amounts due to its strong taste.

Miner’s lettuce is a prime salad green, juicy and with a flavor incredibly similar to good old spinach. To preserve the patch and allow it to grow back, be careful to simply pinch or snip off the leaves, rather than pulling out the roots. For anyone new to foraging, I would highly recommend you sample these leafy greens first, as the flavor is one of the most universally agreeable of all the common edible weeds.

Chickweed is another one that you’ve likely already heard about, since the leaves are very good raw in salads and are often paired with miner’s lettuce for variety. The stalk is stringy though so it’s best saved for cooking.

Wild radishes are quite different from cultivated radishes, as the root is tough and stringy. It’s the buds and flowers that you want in this case, which contain a pungent mustard flavor. The flowers come in all colors of the rainbow, and you’ll often find many different colors altogether in the same patch.

Yarrow is more of a medicinal herb rather than a purely edible one, as it’s incredibly bitter when eaten straight. I do not recommend this at all! The flowers are more potent than the leaves but all parts can be used to brew a calming, mildly sedative tincture. It also reacts strongly with yeast and can help bread rise if you’re an avid baker. Only a little bit is needed to make a big impact.

Wild plums are likely the most abundant wild fruit growing in the bay area. These pictured above are still unripe, as they’ll be in season come mid- to late-June.

Trust me, this is just the beginning of a wild food odyssey, and absolutely anyone could harvest exactly the same haul for themselves with very little effort. I didn’t spend more than hour looking or walk beyond the well-trod trail to find all of these goodies. It pays to do your research and pick very carefully, because the culinary reward is priceless.