The late Summer and Autumn are good times for bountiful yields; the land just can’t stop giving and wild harvests abound. Time for the vegetable gatherer to step aside and make way for the forager warrior.
A friend of mine, Anna, who despite her Mancunian accent, is entirely Russian, once told me that she could always tell the Eastern Europeans from the Western Europeans in the woods near her house, for the Eastern Europeans would be the ones scrambling around amongst the leaf litter searching for fungal treasure.
My father is half Polish, and he has certainly always been one for the mushroom-spotting sport; so perhaps there is some truth in my dear Anna’s observations. He’d take us with him on his foraging escapades when we were small, with dreams of finding giant puffballs bigger than our heads and cautionary tales of an early end if you so much as put your fingers near your mouth after touching a deathcap (that notion nipped my childhood thumb sucking habit right in the bud). I still always err on the side of caution when I’m mushroom hunting, by carrying a identification guide and not touching unless I’m absolutely sure I know what it is.
Our neighbour here in Sussex is a skilled chanterelle hunter. We live in a hamlet surrounded by woodland, and he has a prolific secret spot; so prolific he often supplies restaurants in London with his surplus. I’m in danger here of sounding like a Peeping Tom but I’ve watched him set off with his basket and it’s taken a fair amount of restraint not to follow him to his patch.
There was no need to resort to bad neighbourly manners on my part, however, for my friend @MeatFishandcheese took a gang of us on a foraging quest and showed us how to navigate our own way to finding the bright orange treasure poking their heads out from the leaf litter.
It’s always wise to rigorously check they are true Chanterelles in order to avoid belly aches; one tell is that they smell gloriously like apricots. It’s best to cut them with a knife to keep the stem in the ground, find restraint not to pick them all and carry away in something relatively open so spores can fall away as you leave. These little tricks will ensure that there will be a continuing supply in the weeks and years to come. Other common mushrooms to look out for are Hedgehogs, Oysters and Horn-a-Plenty- delicious, nutritious and entirely edible.
- 400g of risotto rice
- 1 glass of white wine
- 2 stock cubes
- 1 large onion
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 200 g butter
- A few generous glugs of olive oil
- Approximately 600g of mushrooms (if you don’t fancy a walk in the wild woods, the supermarket is a guaranteed bet for foraging)
- 200g of Parmesan
- A small handful of herbs, parsley and tarragon are my favourites
- A squeeze of lemon juice (optional)
If you’re feeling really decadent, truffle oil is an excellent way to elevate this from delicious meal to super-fancy delicious meal. A small bottle will set you back around £3.50 at the supermarket, often in the super fancy section of speciality ingredients.
Divide and heat the butter and olive oil between a saucepan and frying pan.
Add the rice to the saucepan and stir into the butter. When coated, add the white wine and cook until absorbed.
Have your stock on hand and ready to use. Add a ladle of stock and stir. Once it’s absorbed add the next ladle and so forth. Stirring your rice will help release it’s starch and your risotto will be more creamy because of it, so massage those grains with your wooden spoon as much as you can.
In the saucepan sauté the onions until translucent. Add the garlic and then the mushrooms. Mushrooms like cooking space, so give them room and they’ll reward you by not becoming slimy. If you’re pan can’t accommodate them all at once, do them in batches. They’ll need around 10 minutes on a medium heat or until they’re golden brown.
After half an hour of slowly adding the stock to the rice it should be almost ready. The grains should be soft and have a little bite. Add the last ladle of stock, take it off the heat and grate your Parmesan into the pan.
Toss your mushrooms in the chopped herbs and add a squeeze of lemon.
Stir your mushroom mixture through the rice and top with extra herbs, a few shavings of Parmesan, and if you’re feeling decadent, a little truffle oil.