Does the love of foraging go back to our hunter gatherer days? I wonder. What is it that lures us into the countryside to spend long hours poking a stick amongst the undergrowth in the hope of finding some wild mushrooms, or risk getting stung collecting nettles or scratched picking a few sloes or blackberries?
I don’t know the answer, but I know that it is something I love to do and October is the perfect month to do it in. I find it exhilarating to come across a patch of chanterelles or find the tell-tale brown cap of the elusive boletus, or cep, peeping out from under a clump of grass. Taking it home, cleaning and cooking the bounty and making a meal to share with others gives me an added thrill, knowing that I have produced it all by myself.
My mother was a great forager and so maybe I get my love of it from her. I grew up in Sussex, on Ashdown Forest, where I knew where to look for which mushrooms, where the blackberries were the most abundant and where to find the sloes. I know all the foraging lores; for instance, never pick a blackberry after St Michael’s Day (September 29th) because the devil will have spat on them and turned them bitter; wait to pick your sloes after there’s been a frost; pick the nettles when they’re young, and have a very good mushroom encyclopedia to check your fungi when you get home!
The French love to forage and you often encounter people walking about with plastic bags collecting wild asparagus, herbs, mushrooms and of course snails (but enough about them) in the countryside all around. I haven’t lived here long enough to know where to look for wild food, so for now I make do with other people’s knowledge and buy my wild mushrooms in the market. If you do pick your own mushrooms in France you can take your haul to the local pharmacy and they will tell you if they’re edible or not.
Last week having been national mushroom week in France, I decided to make this delicious risotto using chanterelles I had bought in Arles market. My friend Celia came over for lunch on Saturday and I served it with some pumpkin, roasted with garlic and thyme, it really was delicious and if you ask her I think she’ll agree!
- WILD MUSHROOM RISOTTO
- A large handful of wild mushrooms, chanterelles or ceps
- I onion
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 350gm Arborio rice
- 2 tbsp Olive oil
- 25 gms Butter
- 150 ml or glass white wine
- 1 litre of chicken or vegetable stock
- Grated Parmesan
- Chopped parsely
- Salt and pepper to taste
Clean the mushrooms, picking off the dirt and wiping with a damp paper towel.
Heat the stock in a pan, bring to the boil and keep on a low simmer.
In a small pan heat the butter and cook the mushrooms on a low heat whilst making the risotto. Make sure they don’t overcook or dry out, turn them off after a few minutes.
Meanwhile in another pan, heat the olive oil and gently cook the onion and garlic for about five minutes, until the onion is translucent. Add the rice and stir until until every grain is coated with the oil, then add the glass of wine and stir until it has evaporated.
Next add a ladle of hot stock and carry on stirring, until it has been absorbed, then repeat with another ladle and keep stirring until all the stock has been used up. Then take it off the heat, add the mushrooms, salt and pepper to taste and lastly parmesan. Stir one more time and serve with chopped parsely.
If you have any dried mushrooms in the cupboard, soak them in hot water for 10 minutes and add the mushroom and their water to the stock for added pungency.
I asked local wine aficionado, Phillip Reddaway, to suggest a wine to go with this meal and this is what he suggested.
For this dish I`d want a full red wine but not so rich and powerful that it dominates the delicate flavors of those wild mushrooms. I`d be temped to head for a 100% Syrah from the Northern Rhone, nothing overly grand or expensive required, what we need is purity of fruit. Crunchy cassis, white pepper, cut through with minerality – a perfect example would be the Crozes Hermitage “Le Rouvre” 2007 from young wine maker Jann Chave, available widely in France, and around the world for that matter, at around €19, local price, a bottle – see:http://www.vinothequeduleman.com/
And if there’s more alcohol you’re after, here’s a picture of some sloe and damson gin The Artist made whilst staying with his mother outside Bath. Can’t wait for Christmas to decant it, but don’t expect to be offered any if you come to visit as I’m not sure he’s made enough to share!