If my blog is any indication, I’ve been reaching for the comfort food this month. Combine unseasonably cold fall temperatures, an inconsistent bus stop schedule, and getting home long after the sun has set during the week, and it’s little wonder that all I’ve wanted in the evenings are my long johns, ratty sweater, and food that insulates.
But a gal can’t (okay, shouldn’t) subsist on cake and lasagna alone, so this week I set out to find a hearty soup that tastes decadent without the requisite cream I come to count on during the holiday season. With a little digging at Pinterest, I found just the recipe I needed for a week filled with Christmas parties and travel prep: fresh and wild mushroom stew, courtesy of the New York Times “Dining” section.
Mushrooms are one of my weak spots when it comes to grocery store splurges. I’ve loved their chewy texture and earthy undertones since I was a kid and my mother laced her spaghetti sauce with chunks of button and cremini mushrooms. Living and travelling around China only deepened my appreciation for mushroom diversity. Added to tofu and vegetable dishes to offer texture and umami or as the main attraction in soup, shiitake, woodear (actually another kind of delicious fungus treated as a mushroom), straw, enoki, oyster, king trumpet, brown beech, and tea tree mushrooms convinced me that meat was just a sliver on the chart of culinary flavoring.
My culinary mushroom obsession only increased when I moved to Portland, Oregon, after college and befriended a couple of wild mushroom gatherers. Who needs hallucinogenic mushrooms when you can savor the heavenly taste of lightly sauteed wild chanterelles?
Unfortunately, chanterelles are prohibitively expensive if you’re purchasing them from a grocer, and unless you live down the street from an Asian grocery store, gathering most Asian mushrooms is difficult. This week’s mushroom stew recipe offers an middle way. With a substantial base of cremini, portobello, and shiitake mushrooms, I’ve used the more expensive oyster mushrooms as a light finish to the stew.
While the original recipe is not vegan or gluten-free, you can easily substitute the tablespoon of butter with a vegan margarine variety and the tablespoon of all-purpose flour with potato flour or cornstarch. If substituting with potato flour or cornstarch, be sure to add it a teaspoon at a time and taste before adding more. Cornstarch, in particular, is an excellent sauce thickener, but too much of it can leave a weird aftertaste. And believe me, this stew is so good that you don’t want to mess it up.
Fresh and Wild Mushroom Stew (a New York Times Dining recipe)
Serves 4 to 6 as a main course
– 1 1/2 lbs cultivated brown mushrooms, like shiitake, cremini or portobello (I used a combination of all three.)
– 1/2 lb pale wild mushrooms, like chanterelle (Chanterelles are expensive! I used slightly less expensive organic oyster mushrooms.)
– Extra virgin olive oil
– 1 large onion, diced
– Salt and pepper
– 1 tsp chopped thyme
– 1 tsp chopped sage or rosemary (I used fresh sage.)
– Pinch red pepper flakes or cayenne
– 1 TBS tomato paste
– 3 small ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (Blanch these babies to skin ’em easier.)
– 1 TBS all-purpose flour (or use a gluten-free option like potato flour or cornstarch, but add a tsp at a time and taste before adding more)
– Porcini broth, heated, or use chicken broth (To keep things vegetarian, I used 2 cups of vegetable broth.)
– 1 TBS butter (or sub with vegan margarine like Earth Balance)
– 3 garlic cloves, minced
– 3 tablespoons chopped parsley (I don’t like parsley, so I used chopped fresh chives.)
1. Clean mushrooms, keeping colors separate, and trim tough stems. Compost those stems, unless you’re making a homemade broth.) Slice mushrooms about 1/8-inch thick.
2. In a wide skillet, warm 2 TBS olive oil over medium high heat. Add onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until onion has softened and browned, about 10 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
3. Add 1 more TBS oil and turn heat to high. Add brown mushrooms, season lightly, and stir-fry until nicely colored, about 3 minutes. Lower heat to medium. Add thyme, sage, red pepper and tomato paste. Add tomatoes, stir well, and cook for 1 minute. Season again with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon flour, stir to incorporate, and cook for 1 minute more. Stir in reserved onions.
4. Add 1 cup mushroom/veggie broth, and stir until thickened, about 1 minute. Gradually add 1 more cup broth and cook for 2 minutes. Sauce should have gravy-like consistency; thin with more broth if necessary. Adjust seasoning. (May be prepared to this point several hours ahead and reheated.)
5. Just before serving, put butter and 1 TBS olive in wide skillet over medium high heat. When butter begins to brown, add chanterelles (or oyster mushrooms), season with salt and pepper, and sauté for about 2 minutes, until cooked through and beginning to brown.
6. Add garlic and parsley (if using), stir to coat and cook 1 minute more. Add chanterelles to brown mushroom mixture and transfer to a warm serving bowl. Top with chives. Accompany with polenta or pasta if you wish. (We made some whole-grain garlic bread for stew dipping and plates of pomegranate and kale salad.)