Mushroom magic

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After a warm summer, the experts are predicting a bumper season for wild mushrooms and what better reward after a leaf-kicking walk in the woods than a bounty of earthy, umami-laden fungi, just asking to be braised with garlic or reduced down and stirred into an silky-smooth risotto.

Stumbling across a dappled glade packed with chanterelles or cepes is like striking gastronomic gold, but you’re more likely to encounter less sexy varieties which need careful identification prior to picking. Take a field guide like this one with you while out walking and try to get a positive identification BEFORE digging them out of the ground.

There are also some excellent online resources such as Wild Food UK and The Mushroom Diary, which offer sound advice on identification and other aspects of wild food foraging.

Strictly speaking, you need the permission of the land-owner to forage for foodstuffs – especially if you’re wandering off-piste a long way off the footpath – but exercise discretion and moderation and it’s unlilkely that you’ll be challenged.

For further advice and inspiration, I always enjoy a leaf through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Cookbook, and Richard Maybe’s seminal Food for Free is always worth a look.

Once you get your harvest home, brush off the dirt and leaf litter and perhaps wipe your hoard gently with a damp cloth, but don’t subject them to the water cannon treatment.

To bring out the best in them, cook them covered over a medium to high heat in a drizzle of oil and a sprinkle of salt to encourage them to release their juices and then remove the lid and lower the heat to let the juices reduce into a sticky, flavoursome, coating – and one the definitive flavours of autumn.

Chucking in a few leaves of thyme and a dash of soy sauce or even balsamic vinegar during the reduction deepens the flavour still further. Add a half cupful of single cream just before the last of the juice disappears, cook for another minute or two and slather straight from the pan onto chunky, crusty toast brushed with a clove of garlic, a glug of olive oil and a twist of freshly ground sea salt.

Author: Mark Sutcliffe

Freelance writer and editor specialising in the outdoors, environment, walking, cycling, food, travel and adventures.

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