I proofread the new edition of Richard Mabey’s Food For Free last week and I was rather in awe of the number of delicious things that can be had for nothing in the British countryside. First published in 1972 years before anyone had even thought up convenience food and the all-night supermarket (at least in Britain), let alone the notions of local food or foraging, it is an amazing book, full of inspiration, beautiful drawings and fascinating descriptions of the history of the plants’ uses. Apart from the obvious (fruit, seafood, mushrooms) there are tons of other interesting foodstuffs just waiting to be ‘scrumped’. Alas, I fear I won’t be the one to do it, because although I love the thrill of coming home with a bag full of blackberries, knowing that I have just saved the environment and a packet by not buying them in little plastic boxes from the supermarket, I am a bit of a scaredy-cat about picking the wrong thing, and not having time to regret it…
The book also reminded me how rarely I eat mushrooms. I actually can’t remember the last time I bought any. I’m not sure why that is; I love mushroom soup and I love them fried in butter to have with scrambled egg on toast for breakfast but, now I think about it, I realise that I rarely use them. So, in honour of a book that raises fungi to the level of true delicacy (well, some), and, because they are one of the few truly seasonally available foodstuffs we have, I thought I’d make an effort to find some new ways to cook them. The first idea I came across is in The Good Cook, by Simon Hopkinson and it’s a wonderful recipe for this time of year: full of warmth and stodge to keep out the cold, low on shopping and cost and yet, with the addition of the lemon, parsley and garlic, it has a bright, summery flavour which will lift your spirits at any time of year but particularly in this, the darkest week. Try and remember to serve it with some lemon quarters; a last spritz of juice over the top is delicious. Perfect for vegetarians, obviously, but I think it would be bloody lovely with a bit of rib-eye too…
For two portions you will need:
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
garlic, 2-3 cloves
olive oil, 60-80ml for the potatoes plus a tablespoon for the mushrooms
sea salt and black pepper
button mushrooms, 200g
flat-leaf parsley, a handful
1. Peel the potatoes and one of the garlic cloves, and then cut the potatoes into chunks. Put them both into a pan of boiling, salted water and cook until the potatoes are tender. Depending on the size of the pieces this will take from 5-10 minutes.
2. Whilst the potatoes are cooking, warm the milk and prep the rest. First, slice the mushrooms thinly and put to one side then make a gremolata: rinse and destalk the parsley, peel and tail the other garlic cloves and zest half of the lemon. Chop all three together to make a rough, aromatic mixture.
3. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan then add the mushrooms and cook until golden on both sides.
4. Whilst the mushrooms are cooking, make the purée. Drain and mash the potatoes really thoroughly with the warm milk, the olive oil and some salt and pepper. Hopkinson says you want to use a potato ricer if possible but, for want of one of those, I used a masher and a whisk. You are after a purée more than a mash so slightly sloppier is better. Keep it covered and warm.
5. Finally, add the gremolata mixture to the mushrooms and stir to mix together well.
6. Cut the half-zested lemon into quarters, spoon the potato purée into bowls, cover with the mushrooms and serve with a lemon quarter or two for squeezing over the top.