If you go down to the woods today
Don’t be surprised if you find a chef bent double searching the undergrowth, it’s fungi season for Jonny Nicholson, Chef-Proprietor of The Sail Loft in Southwold
Foraging wild foods for your dinner, especially mushrooms, is immensely satisfying but time-consuming. Sadly I rarely escape the stoves long enough to indulge often but when I do, it is such relaxing escapism from a hot, busy kitchen.
Of course, going out on a foray basket-in-hand at any time of year to garner nature’s bounty doesn’t come without its risks and should only be attempted with bags of caution and lots of knowledge.
Perhaps the most risky of all foraging activity is harvesting wild mushrooms. Quite a number which grow in East Anglia are delicious to eat, a few such as the quite rare cep or porcini and the saffron milk cap are revered for their edible appeal and cost lots to buy, much like the famous black truffle. Add to them another dozen or so other more common favourites such as the puffball, field mushroom and parasol, and you can see why it is well worth the effort to go out hunting the hedgerows. But, and a big but, most fungi you will find are unpalatable and not very pleasant to eat, and worst of all, a significant number are poisonous, several to the point of being deadly toxic. With names like the Death Cap and Destroying Angel, you can appreciate why knowing what you are picking is vitally important when foraging.
I always accompany expert acquaintances (who have yet to admit poisoning themselves) and ensure they come armed with the right guide books and photos for reference.
But in your case, I would only advise going on an organised foraging trip with an instructor to guide you (the Forestry Commission, Suffolk Wildlife Trust and National Trust are worth approaching).
Or to totally play it safe, go and hunt in your local greengrocer or supermarket fruit’n’veg aisle, they have a much better selection of unusual ‘wild’ mushrooms these days.
This favourite mushroom pasta dish makes a great starter with friends or a perfect sofa one pot midweek supper, almost as quick as a microwave meal, if you miss out the garnish.
Jonny Nicholson, Chef – Proprietor, The Sail Loft in Southwold
The Sail Loft, Ferry Road, Southwold IP18 6HQ
Our beachside café-bar-restaurant, proudly using local, seasonal, Suffolk ingredients – find us by Southwold’s dunes near the campsite and lifeboat station. Book for our daily specials: Monday Madness – two courses for £10; Curry-tastic Tuesday; Wednesday Burger Bonanza; Friday Steak Night
W: www.sailloftsouthwold.uk T: 01502 725713
This really is the easiest recipe for a speedy midweek supper, you can glam’ it up if you forage some tasty wild fungi or if it’s just a punnet of button mushrooms, add some extra flavours such as wholegrain mustard or crisp bacon bits to boost the taste. The zesty breadcrumb garnish is far from essential but adds further pzazz for a fancy starter.
2 large handfuls of white breadcrumbs (from a stale loaf)
Zest of 1 lemon
1 large garlic clove, peeled and finely-chopped
Small handful of flat parsley leaves, shredded
10g dried porcini mushrooms (optional)
350g mixed fresh mushrooms (wilder the better)
650g pasta ribbons (I prefer pappardelle or tagliatelle)
2 – 3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves (ideally fresh but dried are fine)
3 tbsp crème fraiche (optional)
Parmesan shavings (optional)
First prepare the breadcrumb garnish. In a large bowl, toss the crumbs with a good drizzle of oil and then bake on a deep baking sheet in a pre-heated 180c oven until lightly-toasted, stir the zest and garlic through gently and bake again until golden. Remove to the bowl and fold through the parsley and seasoning to taste before setting aside.
At this point, warm pasta plates ready to serve into later.
Soak the porcini (if using) by just covering them in a snug saucepan with boiling water to rehydrate for 10 – 15 minutes. Sieve to drain (reserving the water) and finely chop the flesh. Set both aside.
Tear or cut the fresh mushrooms into small bite-size pieces or slices.
Put the pasta on to boil in lots of boiling, salted water according to the pack instructions. Whilst cooking the mushrooms below, do keep an eye on the pasta, stirring occasionally and drain it when the timer sounds, before glazing with oil and keeping warm.
After five minutes from putting the pasta on to cook, lightly oil a hot, deep saute pan over a high heat, add the porcini and fresh mushrooms and stir-fry for a minute or two. Stir in the garlic, thyme and bay leaves along with a few knobs of butter. Turn the heat down to medium and keep stirring occasionally until the mushrooms have wilted but still have a little bite. Fold in the crème fraiche (if using) and sufficient soaking water to make a light sauce. Fold in the hot pasta and toss with the parsley and seasoning to taste. Serve on to the warmed plates and garnish with the crumbs or parmesan (if using).