From forage to fork.
My friend Lynn burst out with an inspired “I want to get OUT THERE 7 am tomorrow!” as we left a fascinating talk by Eugenia Bone on her absolute adoration of fungus and her book Mycophilia Tuesday evening in Paonia, Colorado. She was referring to up, up THERE in the high country to forage for wild mushrooms. I immediately said yes.
We settled on 8:00 am. I was excited – I had never been to the region above Paonia where she was taking us – high up on Steven’s Gulch Road by Overland Reservoir. We met at her house, loaded up the car with bags, jackets, her two chihuahuas Rosie and Babette, and miscellaneous gear. Then we wound our way up, up, up the gravel road, serene vistas of blue mountains and lush green valleys all around. Rosie and Babette, unused to being relegated to the back seat without a lap to sit on, put on their most woebegone faces – all sad eyes and droopy, dejected ears – eventually giving way to a dog in each of our laps, or two, as they shuffled and maneuvered back and forth, weaving their way between us and the console. As we neared the reservoir, Lynn revved the engine, I gulped, and she surged through a deep, expansive puddle of rainwater at a huge dip in the road, we hooted, wove around a couple more bends in the road, then pulled over.
It had rained steadily the night before, and we stepped into a fairy wonderland with each foot fall towards and into Gunnison National Forest. I wish I had stooped down to take portraits of all the incredible variety of mushrooms we saw, but we were on an increasingly obsessive, focussed path. The path that would lead us to droves of chanterelles and king boletes (porcini in Italian.)
Rosie and Babette clearly loved exploring the forest. They were so tiny, racing and whirling and sniffing about. We asked them to be our “Porcini Pups” – to lead us as European pigs do to truffles underground. Ha! Did they listen?
After trudging through dappled forest landscapes for a time, I came to an abrupt halt as I recognized a mushroom Eugenia had held up and identified the night before as a tasty edible – but I couldn’t recall the name. Lynn said “it’s a Hawk-Wing!” and we happily picked from the generous scattering of beauties before us. Then we each found a couple of treasured king boletes, and a young puffball or two as well. Hooray!
Plus some bright Amanitas popped into view, making me smile – as they gleamed in the sun. Have you heard of their connection to the origins of Santa Claus in Siberia? Link to the legend and facts.
I smiled at the memory of a foolhardy, reckless long ago, when a group of young Colorado implants foraged for precisely these red and white dotted Amanita mushrooms in the mountains above Estes Park. They’d been advised that scraping the gills out, and the white spots off, would yield a splendid hallucinogenic effect. Or so I was told. 🙂 NOTE: NOT an advocated recipe! Please! Be careful in the realm of the mushroom kingdom.
We burst out of the forest into a high meadow.
And I flopped onto the grass, flat on my back, face gratefully towards the sky. After a short rest, we made our way back to the car, the dogs still full of jumps and bounds.
It wasn’t a gigantic haul of mushrooms that morning, and nary a chanterelle was found, but when I returned home, and spread them out, it still was a wonderful bounty.
I loved the look of the hawk-wings, whole, and sliced:
Looking very hawk-like, with a wide, soaring wing span.
I cleaned, trimmed, sliced and sauteed both varieties in butter and olive oil with a little chopped garlic.
and decided to try out an inspiration for the king boletes based on the assessment of my pantry and refrigerator.
Porcini (King Bolete) and Penne in Champagne Chevre Cream Sauce
ALWAYS make sure, and double back to make sure again, you have a positive ID on wild mushrooms. This dish really lets the silky, earthy fabulousness of the boletes shine through. Any vegetables you may like to add, choose wisely. Let the mushrooms take center stage, and let mild flavored accompaniments enhance rather than overpower. Like snap or shelled peas, a bit of broccoli, perhaps sweet carrots. The cream and champagne I chose, was to set off the “specialness” of the mushroom haul.
- washed, trimmed and sliced king bolete mushrooms (how many have you got?! maybe 3 c. fresh sliced)
- butter – a good dollop
- olive oil – a good splash in the bottom of a large skillet
- garlic – 3-4 large cloves, minced
- gluten free penne pasta – 2-3 c. dried (I love Barilla brand, non GMO corn and rice, sturdy, excellent pasta)
- snap peas – couple handfuls or what this late season garden yields
- broccoli – couple handfuls little flowerettes or what this late season garden yields
- half and half – half a cup or more
- champagne – half a cup or more
- chopped fresh oregano or tarragon – be generous
- softened chevre (goat cheese) – a couple tablespoons or so
- salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Place butter and olive oil in large pan or pot, turn on medium high heat and let butter heat to foaming – add mushrooms and garlic at once. Saute, turning often, until all pieces are tender and that incredible silky texture. In separate pot, bring two quarts of water to boil, drop in penne, and let cook, stirring occasionally, until a minute or so from al dente (lift one with a spoon, cut it and taste). Drop snap peas and broccoli into the boil, then remove all from heat and strain through colander at the sink in just a couple minutes more. Bring pasta pot back to burner, adjust heat to medium. Add sauteed mushrooms, cream, champagne and herbs, stirring and simmering a short minute. Stir in pasta and vegetables. Salt and generously pepper, taste, add more cream/champagne if sauce seems too skimpy. Let it reduce a bit, breathe in deeply the fantastic aroma, and serve in bowls, with a little glass of champagne on the side.
Rejoice! It’s mushroom season!