Now that I’ve left you in suspense for a couple days, I’m back to tell you what I did with that giant thing. Well, seeing as how it was, you know, GIANT, I did a few things.
The first thing I did was dissect that sucker. It was so pristine, I only needed to wipe a few spots of dirt off with a wet paper towel. Gorgeous. Then I cut off all the stems, chopped them up and made a nice mushroom stock. Very quick — put a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan on medium heat. Chop up an onion, a couple carrots and celery (if you have it, I didn’t). Cook that in the olive oil for a few minutes. Add the mushrooms, some fresh or dried thyme, whatever herbs you feel like (sage is good and I tossed in some fennel seeds for fun) and cook that up for a few minutes. Add about 8 cups of water, a pinch of salt, a few peppercorns and a couple bay leaves, bring to a boil and then simmer for a couple hours. Drain well through a sieve, pushing down on the veggies to make sure you get all the liquid out. Discard the cooked veggies (or give them to your dog; he will be one happy hound).
The next thing I made was a quick sauté with butter and shallots with a sprinkle of basil (I would’ve preferred thyme or sage, but didn’t have any fresh). Served on homemade honey wheat bread toasted and rubbed with olive oil and garlic, it was a perfect appetizer for our lazy breakfast-for-dinner supper. So so good and the simple preparation really enhanced the gorgeous, earthy flavor of the mushroom.
The next night I finally did what I’d been planning since I procured that delicious specimen. Mushroom risotto. First off, mushrooms in anything are fantastic. Second, butter helps — always. Add creamy, velvety risotto to the mix, along with a generous helping of tangy Parmesan stirred in at the end, and I’m pretty much done and dusted. And very very happy. Contrary to what you might think, risotto is not hard to make, but it does take some time and preparation. This is a dish that shouldn’t (can’t, really) be rushed, but rather approached as a happy little journey in the kitchen. Put on some music (this is always a favorite), pour yourself some white wine (you’ll have to open a bottle anyway for the recipe) and ladle and stir, and ladle and stir, and prepare yourself for something really spectacularly good.
Don’t be too concerned about heading out into the woods to forage your mushrooms — Whole Foods or your local farmers market will do very nicely for you with their selection. Or if you’re in NYC, head over to the New Amsterdam Market on Sunday by the South Street Seaport and get someone to do the foraging for you. Shitake, cremini, porcinis, even portabello will all taste delish. Just don’t get those white button ones (or eek! Remember canned mushrooms? Can you even get those anymore? The horror. The horror.). Here’s some info if you do want to try your hand at foraging for these beauties!
I used my fresh mushroom stock (along with some supplemental mushroom stock from the store), but you can also use an ounce of dried morels or porcinis soaked in boiling water for 30 minutes to make about 2 cups of the cooking liquid. It brings a really nice mushroom flavor to the dish, but it’s not absolutely essential. If you do go this route, make sure to strain the liquid very well (through a coffee filter or paper towel), so you don’t get any gritty stuff in your risotto.
Wild Mushroom Risotto
6 cups mushroom stock, preferably homemade
4 tablespoons/1/2 stick butter
2 shallots, minced
3 cups (or about 2/3 pound) fresh Hen-of-the-Woods mushrooms
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or sage, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
Herb garnish (optional; fried sage leaves would also be really nice)
Clean your mushrooms gently and discard any stems (or make your own stock). I chopped my mushroom into approximately 1/2″ sized chunks.
In a small saucepan, heat the mushroom stock and bring to a simmer.
In a heavy-bottomed pot dutch-oven over medium heat, melt the butter and sauté shallots for 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and herbs and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with butter. Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes.
Add 2 full ladles of the mushroom stock to the pan along with the salt and pepper. Stir and simmer over low heat until the stock is almost absorbed (about 5 minutes). Continue to add the stock mixture, 2 ladles at a time, stirring every few minutes. Each time, cook until there’s a bit of liquid left (but not completely absorbed into the rice), then add more of the stock mixture. Keep going until you use up all your stock or until the rice is cooked (I like it al dente). It’s okay if there’s a bit of liquid still not absorbed. Take off the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese. Serve hot in shallow bowls with extra cheese.