Monday, October 19, 2020

Pasta, Myzithra, and Chanterelles, Oh My!

Last week my friend Dan told me that the Chanterelle mushroom season was just starting and wanted to know if I wanted to go out checking his “secret patches”* for the woodland delicacy. I like mushrooms, but frankly didn’t know anything about Chanterelles other than everybody around here always looked forward to the season’s start in late October. Sounded like an interesting adventure and all my potential excuses involved working in the yard or in the house...hmmmm???, sunny morning hike in the woods or work...tough decision. 😉 So, early one morning last week, Dan picked me up and we drove Hwy 138E up the North Umpqua river and then up Little River Drive to several different spots in the mossy, forested land of Douglas County. (*Dan was in no way secretive about these Chanterelle hunting areas he’d found over the years...I just thought it sounded better in the opening.)

This picture shows the beautiful color of a
chanterelle mushroom and its common size.

Apparently, the mushrooms can be quite abundant and are normally just peeking out from under the heavy, rich duff of the forest floor. Dan handed me a 5 gallon bucket and offered me a long knife with a brush taped to the handle. The bucket was just in case we hit peak season, the knife to cut the Chanterelle off at the base, and the brush was helpful to clean off fir needles and forest floor debris that was normally on the mushroom cap or stuck to the base. Although it turned out that we weren’t yet in peak season, we each got enough Chanterelles for several meals. 

Dan told me he had several ways that he enjoyed the mushrooms...#1 seemed to be in an omelet (sorry, I kind of blanked out as I envisioned the omelet...didn’t catch the other options...FYI, I’d skipped breakfast this morning so I’m claiming that my stomach had launched a mutiny and my short term memory was currently under attack). I decided that I’d follow that omelet wisdom and try my first batch of our booty that way. I caramelized the cleaned & chopped mushrooms in butter & a touch of oil, then added beaten eggs for an omelet. It was good, but tasted just like any store bought mushroom in an omelet. I was a little disappointed, but I did get a little “hunter’s rush” from having seized these mushrooms from the primal forest duff.

The next day, my dinner thoughts turned to making the mushrooms more of the star of the dish (thanks go to Bobby Flay & the Food Network for that sound bite phrase). When I was going to the U of Washington in Seattle, to a young man, going out to dinner meant going to an inexpensive restaurant that was known for its large plate loads of food...i.e., high on the list, The Old Spaghetti Factory. One of my favorite dishes there was the Brown Butter & Myzithra cheese pasta...I bet you wondered when I was going to make a connection to the title line for this post. So, I thought I’d recreate that dish and add caramelized Chanterelles on top of my version. 

I cleaned, chopped, and caramelized Chanterelles in butter and set them aside. In the same heavy pot, I added more butter and slowly cooked it down until it foamed, reduced down a bit, and browned. 

During the early stages of butter browning, I got out a wedge of Greek Myzithra and grated a good quantity (about a shy cup) of the hard, white, sheep milk cheese into a mis en place dish. While watching the butter browning process closely, I then started a batch of pasta cooking in well salted water. (I like any of the smaller, twisted, extruded pastas because to my mind they all hold a sauce really well.) 

I put a little of the final brown butter sauce
in a white cup to show off the lovely color.
Once the butter had browned, I used a kitchen spider (not the large attic spider watching me suspiciously from the corner above the refrigerator) to lift out, drain briefly, and transfer the al dente pasta to the brown butter pot with the grated Myzithra cheese. 

I tossed it all together, plated it with a nice side of broccoli, and gave the whole plate another once over with grated Myzithra, finally, I topped the pasta with the caramelized Chanterelles. (I'm actually kind of shocked I was able to stop, put down my fork, and take a photo.)

I’m really sure I upgraded The Old Spaghetti Factory’s version (at least my memory of it from...oh my goodness...a memory from over 45 years ago!) In all fairness, the Chanterelles were very good this way...better than in an omelet in my humble opinion. But, I’m not sure if some good (very market available) Cremini mushrooms wouldn’t be equally as good. Still, there is that “I foraged it in the wilds” thought floating around in my psyche that should account for something. (FYI: In case you ever wondered, the white button, common white, Cremini, and the Portobello are just different stages of the same mushroom (species Agaricus bisporus). The Portobello is considered by most experts to be the best tasting and most “meaty” mushroom...which stands to reason because it’s the fully ripe one...duh!

I also think that using a good Parmesan, Pecorino, or Asiago cheese would be delightful with Brown butter sauce & pasta...sounds like a good winter project for my taste buds (and potential challenge for the elastic material in my pant’s waistband 😎).

I'm not left handed, but since the fork was failing
to pick up anything else with my right hand...

P.S. It seems that I could save some digits (should that be on a T-shirt? Save the Digits) and just use the same end of meal, finished, empty plate picture for all my blog’s food oriented posts...and looking at the picture has made me realize why I never think about doing a pre-rinse on my plates for the dishwasher.

No comments:

Post a Comment