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Italian Recipes

10 June 2008

The Mighty Morel


The Morel season is coming to a close in British Columbia and foragers will have to wait another year to harvest the wild mushrooms.

Morel mushrooms vary in size but are recognizable by their sponge-like caps which fit over their stalk like a thimble over a thumb. There are two types of true morels; yellow and black, both of the Morchella genus and not to be confused with the poisonous and almost identical impostor, the ‘Wrinkled-cap’ or ‘half-free morel’.

Morels are some of the most sought after wild mushrooms in the world. Finding them, however, can be unpredictable. Luckily for me, I managed to forage for them at the South China Trading Seas Company at Granville Island.

In the wild, morels can be found in mixed hardwood forests near aspen trees, white cedars or white pines in areas recovering from fires.

Other areas favoured by the morel include old apple, peach or pear orchards and dead or dying elm trees. There are rare occasions when the morel has popped up in unexpected places including old camp fire pits, basements, old bomb craters or unused mining sites.


So what is it about these little mushrooms that sends people so crazy each year?

Morels have a rather earthy and subtle nutty taste. They are best cooked simply and that is exactly what I did.

I sautéed them with some crimini mushrooms in garlic, olive oil, a couple of dollops of butter, some organic beef stock and chives, and then served them with fresh fettucine. The porous caps quickly absorbed the flavours, yet retained their slightly crunchy texture. Delicious.

Some tips on buying morels: they should have firm, spongy caps and be moist but not soggy. Try to use them as soon as possible as the fresher, the better. Unlike some mushrooms, it is ok to wash morels. In fact, it is very important to clean them thoroughly but gently to rid them of grit and naturally forming toxins.

I soaked them in cold water and then gently washed and strained them. Don Dickson, owner of South China Seas Trading Company, recommends par boiling them in lightly salted water for about a minute and then sautéing them. He does this just as an extra precaution to rid them of any nasties.

So I haven't answered my own question. What is it that drives people to spend endless hours traipsing through dense or sometimes burnt out forest just to pick a handful of these little fungi?

Part of the answer might lie in the experience - this is vegetarian hunting at its best. And the fact that morels soak up so much flavour and yet hold their own flavour and structure makes them unique. Worth a walk in the woods, or in my case, a walk down to the Granville Island markets.

Continue reading "The Mighty Morel" »

21 October 2007

Winter comfort food: Mushroom Lasagna


With the onset of winter, it's time to dust off those hearty favourites...winter comfort food recipes.

On the menu is Mixed Mushroom Lasagna using a medley of high-grade Shiitakes, Chantarelles, Field and Oyster mushrooms served with a delicate Bechamel sauce. The addition of the fragrant shiitakes adds a different layer to the flavour and aroma of this dish, but I used them in moderation so not to overpower the dish.


I used fresh lasagna sheets (I try to use fresh pasta as much as I can as it is just so much better than the packaged stuff).

Now don't let the following recipe deter you because of how many steps there are. I know it looks like a lot but this dish doesn't take long to make at all. It is far easier than making a meat-based lasagna which can take me hours to prepare. 


Continue reading "Winter comfort food: Mushroom Lasagna" »

31 August 2007

What to do with a kitchen full of Heirlooms


On a recent trip to the Granville Island Public Market in Vancouver, I stumbled across a man selling the most wonderful tomatoes with exotic names such as 'Purple Russian', 'Striped German' and 'Black Pineapple'. Being from Australia, I had never come across such marvels. Of course, I had heard of Fried Green Tomatoes, but other than that, all the tomatoes in my life to this point had been very red. How could I resist?

After a few days, with a kitchen full of ripening tomatoes, it was time to do something with them. That something involved Little Neck Clams and pasta. The result was superb. The firm, tart flesh of the tomatoes added just the right balance to the rich, sweet clam liquor.

If you want to find out more about Heirloom tomatoes, there is a pretty comprehensive explanation on Wikipedia.


Continue reading "What to do with a kitchen full of Heirlooms" »

25 August 2007

Shiitakes have feelings too


Shiitake, known as the fragrant mushroom, is no longer an ingredient found in just Asian cuisine. It is being used more and more in Western kitchens around the globe.

The versatile mushroom has been used by the Japanese and Chinese for both culinary and medicinal purposes for over 1000 years. In China, shiitakes or xiānggū were picked wild in the mountains and dried. The Japanese learned how to cultivate the mushrooms by placing them on dead logs.

These days, the rising popularity of the shiitake has meant its increased cultivation in many countries, giving cooks year-round access to its delectable flavour.

When buying fresh shiitakes, ensure that the flesh is firm and dry but not wrinkled. The caps should be fleshy and unblemished, with a distinct yet subtle aroma. Some shiitakes will naturally develop scoring on their caps. Don't be deterred by this as it is a good sign of a maturing mushroom.

When preparing shiitakes, gently remove the stems with a knife and rinse the caps very briefly in water (in and out). Never let the caps become water-logged. Alternatively, you can carefully wipe the mushrooms with a damp cloth. A soggy shiitake is something to be avoided.

While doing 'research' on this popular little fungus, I came across a site belonging to the Lost Creek Shiitake Farm in Oklahoma. Their literature described the shiitake as a social and almost sentient being that "dislikes crabby people and negative, emotional people...they're not fond of cigarette smoke and may balk in their fruiting around smokers." Shiitakes also love a good thunder storm and tend to proliferate in a group setting...of other shiitakes that is.

Shiitakes are my kind of people. So to celebrate the shiitake's sociability and versatility, I made a shiitake, smoked bacon and asparagus pasta. The result was delicious, rich and yet pleasingly subtle.


Continue reading "Shiitakes have feelings too" »

11 July 2007

Italian Night


Bocconcini pronounced [Bokh-khon-CHEE-Nee] is Italian for 'mouthful'. That is exactly what we had last night; delectable mouthfuls of Insalata Caprese, otherwise known as Bocconcini and Tomato Salad. We recently splashed out on some Domaines Bunan First Press Olive Oil so we tested it out with the salad. The result was excellent. This rare oil comes from 100 year-old trees of the Domaines Bunon in Provence. The olives produce a sweet, full-flavoured oil with a very clean taste. Perfect for summer salads!

I cannot remember the name of the Balsamic we use but it is very sweet and the bottle (pictured in the photograph) had a red label on the cork which means it was aged for 12 years. I am pretty certain it is was produced in Modena in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.

The basil came straight from our herb 'garden'.


I used fresh pasta for this scrumptious dish and you can really notice the difference. The pasta was called Angel Hair but is was a lot thicker than usual. You have to be really careful not to overcook fresh pasta as the soft wheat has a lot less gluten in it than commerically made dry pasta, so it can become very limp and flabby.

The first thing to do for this recipe is prepare the tomato sauce. This part takes two hours so get cracking!

Continue reading "Italian Night" »

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