We are huge fans of mushrooms in this house. On non vegan days, lots of them, cooked in butter and garlic – on sourdough toast – over a leisurely breakfast on Saturday. With lots of coffee, and long conversations before we get started with the day.
Or large and small mushrooms chopped and fried with onion and garlic and a little potato and finished off with cream. On non vegan days.
Or sautee’d with leek and garlic and topped with sourdough breadcrumbs and parmesan and flashed under the grill. On non vegan days.
Or very lightly smoked, chopped fine in the food processor and mixed with a little salt, black pepper and cream cheese then dropped into hot pasta. On non vegan days.
But what about the VEGAN days? Mushrooms in all their various forms can definitely hold their own without need for dairy.
On Day 11 I was browsing around Norwich market and at the front of my favourite fruit and veg stall were some beautiful ceps. I had no inkling that I was going to buy ceps that day but they looked so wonderful it would have been a sin not to. So I bough four big fat ones. I was succumbed to an unbidden vision of them settling into a fragrant fennel, leek and pea risotto. And so it was.
Leek, fennel and pea risotto with porcini mushrooms
Risotto is a friendly and comforting meal and at home we always have it in a bowl. Never on a plate. It is quite hard to spoil it and my preference is for it to be ‘soupy’ and definitely not dry like a paella. Don’t get the two confused. This is why you use different rice for these two dishes. Arborio rice – for paella – has a shorter grain and a starch that melts around the edges of each grain which gives the risotto creamy texture. Paella rice is harder has a long grain which means the grains tend not to stick to one another.
For two people, saute finely chopped onion (one small), celery (one stick) and fennel (half a medium sized bulb) in olive oil. When soft, add two chopped cloves of garlic and the grated zest of half a lemon. Then add a mug full of arborio rice and move it around gently to coat the grains in oil. Then turn up the heat and add a wine glass full of Noilly Prat or Fino sherry or dry white wine. My preference is for the Prat. Let it bubble and splutter and boil away until the alcohol has reduced to almost nothing. Then turn the heat down to low and add a ladle full of hot vegetable stock, stir, and gradually add stock as needed (every time it has all but disappeared from the rice pan), it really does make a difference if you add the stock bit by bit and stir every few minutes. Don’t be tempted to throw it in all at once. In fact, consider it your gift to yourself. This is all you need to do for the next 20 minutes. Just stand, ladle in more stock and stir. It is a contemplative and simple task. You will probably use about 750ml stock using this method. You can be clever and make your own stock – which I sometimes do – or use one of those lovely Knorr (or similar) stock pot thingys.
Wipe two medium sized ceps and make sure they have no evident grit. Slice them into thick slices, length ways, and drop into good olive oil and garlic and fry gently until they are tinged with golden brown at the edges. Did I just say ‘golden brown’? …… until they are brown at the edges.
Back to the risotto. Check the stock level in the risotto – by about 20 minutes it should be nearly ready – by which I mean the rice will be just cooked and there will still be stock in the pan – and it should be looking creamy. At this stage check the seasoning. I suggest you don’t add salt early in the cooking because if you are using stock pots or cubes they are likely to be salty. So check the seasoning and adjust toward the end of the cooking time, and if you are not vegan, add a handful of parmesan and frozen peas and a large knob of butter. And maybe a little chopped fresh mint leaves. If you are vegan, just add the peas and the mint! Cook for a couple more minutes and then serve. Just be aware that the longer you wait at this stage, the quicker the rice will absorb any liquid, so always have a little more liquid than you think you need in the pan because by the time you have fiddled for a couple of minutes the thirsty grains will have sucked it all up.
Make sure your bowls are warm then spoon in the creamy risotto. Top with the ceps, a grating of lemon zest and sea salt flakes. And parmesan if you must. In our house it is obligatory to eat this curled up on the sofa, accompanied by slurping and little gasps of pleasure.
Mushroom pate – would that be smoked or unsmoked madam?
Take 250g mushrooms of any type and check they are grit and dirt free. If you are smoking them, either use your home smoker or if you don’t have one I suggest you use an old saucepan and a camping gas stove and do this outside. Throw a small handful of the wood shavings of your choice into an old pan or enamel breadbin with a rack (maybe an old cooking rack cut to size). Huge Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage book on simple smoking and preserving is a good one and gives you more detail. Place the mushrooms on the rack and light the wood shavings (make sure the rack is a few inches above the shavings so any initial flames don’t flare up and scorch the mushrooms). Put the lid on and allow to smoke away for about 15 minutes. Then remove them and allow to cool.
Now to our old friend the food processor. Process the cooled mushrooms (or the unsmoked mushrooms) until finely chopped then add one tub of Tofutti cream soy cheese (or cream cheese for non-vegans), and combine with the mushrooms. Check whether it needs any salt, and add a couple of grinds of black pepper and a little tiny grate of nutmeg. That’s it! Remove from the processor then if you like you can add chopped chives or herbs such as chopped dill or tarragon. It really is yummy — on toast, in sandwiches, on crackers and in jacket potatoes – but make sure use it up within a couple of days.