Wednesday, 5 November 2008


One of the reasons to be in France in the autumn is to eat wild mushrooms. There is a long tradition of mushroom foraging in France and just last week the television featured a story about harvesting mushrooms in the forest of Fontainebleau. This forest, which surrounds the chateau, is not far from Paris. The French nobility were smart in building their homes close to large woods, which provided not only mushrooms but also lots of wild game to hunt. Mushrooms can be gathered in the closer to Paris in the Bois de Boulogne, but you are likely to come across another form of wild life there!
The tradition is encouraged by the fact that you can turn up at any pharmacie and have your mushrooms checked to make sure that your sauté or omelette won't kill you or your guests. I usually buy my mushrooms at the market, that way I am sure to survive dinner but I did go foraging with my friends Lise and Franck, (the cassoulet makers), in a forest close to their country house. Their son had found a cepe the week before so we were all were convinced that we'd come back with basket full of mushrooms. The walk in the forest was invigorating, I love that swish of dried leaves under my feet and the weak sunlight straining through the trees. The only mushrooms we found were those in the photo and some pale purple ones. Even I didn't need to take a one to the pharmacie to know they weren't edible.

Back in Paris we went to the market and bought some and here is what we did with them. The first was a simple mushroom risotto made with what I call chanterelles but the French call girolles. The French don't know how to make risotto - never order it in Paris unless the chef is Italian, and even then you are probably better making it yourself or taking a train to Italy. The second is really my favourite a mixture of wild mushrooms. Here there are cèpes (porcinis in Italian), French chanterelles and trompettes de la mort. The last, a black mushroom, is also know as horn of plenty, but trumpet of death is a much more dramatic name especially as it is not poisonous. The only trick to cooking a mixture of mushrooms is to cook them separately, whatever the recipe tells you, preferably in duck fat. Then cook some shallot, garlic, and thyme sprigs in more duck fat add the cooked mushrooms back to the pan, heat through and season well and sprinkle with chopped parsley.
Absolutely delicious.

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