Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Book Review: Shroom by Becky Selengut

In general, I don't care for the common practice of shortening words in the English language. I respect language too much and many shortened words just sound infantile. "Veggies" instead of vegetables? No, thank you. "Fridge" instead of refrigerator? Sorry, don't like it, won't say it. "Apps" rather than appetizers? What people won't stoop to, to save a syllable or two!
So when a publisher sent me the new mushroom cookbook "Shroom" the other day, you can imagine my initial reaction. In addition, I was a child of the '70s so I associate the word "shroom" with psychedelic drugs, specifically, hallucinogenic Psilocybin mushrooms. Doesn't everybody? As if to prove that association, the front cover of the book announces it as containing "Mind-bendingly" good recipes. Wink-Wink. Can't wait until my Cannabis cookbook arrives.
Despite all these distractions, Shroom is a beautiful cookbook, conventional in most ways. Though I like mushrooms cooked or raw, I personally would not have been moved to buy a cookbook solely based on this one edible, even though the recipes indicate a wide-ranging use for them -- all savory, thank goodness (I was half-expecting a mushroom ice cream). Incorporating mushrooms into everything from bread pudding to grits to burgers can't be a bad idea, especially given their nutrient value, and I look forward to trying some of the dishes in this book. Who knows, maybe I'll become a "Shroomhead," or a fungi-fanatic.
With wit and skill, author Selengut shares her deep enthusiasm for the toadstool and gives us 75 recipes, including Beech Mushrooms in Phyllo with Georgian Walnut Sauce and Pomegranate, Pasta with Morels, Leeks and Oven-Roasted Tomatoes, and Roasted Chanterelles and Bacon with Sweet Corn Sauce. Beautiful photography by Clare Barboza  and wine pairings for each dish by Sommelier April Pogue complete the package. Here's her recipe for porcini salad:

Porcini Salad with Pine Nuts and Lemon Salt

SERVES: 4 as an appetizer; PAIRING: Austrian GrĂ¼ner Veltliner

This is a deceptively simple composed salad that really highlights the versatility of porcini. When thinly sliced and roasted—but not overly so—porcini can be subtle, delicate, and sublime. The heat is applied lightly here, so that you can appreciate the subtlety of the dish, while the pine nuts echo the nuttiness and depth of the porcini and the lemon zings it up an octave.

Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
1 pound fresh porcini mushrooms, sliced
¼ inch thick (cap-through-stem slices)
1¼ teaspoons fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (save lemon halves for squeezing on salad)
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted (below)
1 stalk celery (see Note), shaved paper-thin into half-moons on a mandoline (leaves cut into chiffonade and reserved for garnish)
About ¼ cup shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano (use a vegetable peeler)
Fresh chervil leaves, for garnish (substitute small flat-leaf parsley leaves)

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line 2 baking pans with parchment paper and brush with olive oil.

Lay the porcini slices on the parchment. Brush with more olive oil. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of the salt over the top. Roast until lightly browned in spots, 15 to 25 minutes, flipping once after 10 minutes.

In a spice grinder, pulse the red pepper flakes, lemon zest, pine nuts, and the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt to a chunky consistency.

Arrange the cooked porcini slices on plates. Sprinkle the celery over the mushrooms. Drizzle olive oil over the salads (1 to 2 teaspoons, but you don’t need to measure), followed by a squeeze of lemon juice. Sprinkle the pine nut mixture over the top. Garnish with cheese shavings and celery and chervil leaves.

NOTE: Try to take off as many celery strings as you can prior to shaving the stalk on the mandoline (otherwise, they get caught in the blade). Use a paring knife—starting at the top, grab the strings between your thumb and the side of the knife and pull downward, stripping them off. If you don’t have a mandoline, use a very sharp knife and cut the celery as thinly as you can manage.

TOASTING NUTS: There are a few ways to toast nuts. If you watch carefully, you can do it in a skillet on the stovetop, but I find the easiest and safest way to go is to preheat your oven to 350°F. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and pop them into the oven. Pine nuts really enjoy burning (they’re evil), so keep a close eye on those and check after 4 to 5 minutes. Ditto for sliced almonds. For the bigger nuts (whole almonds, walnuts, and others), take a peek at them after 8 to 10 minutes.

From Shroom: Mind-bendingly Good Recipes for Cultivated and Wild Mushrooms by Becky Selengut, Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC 2014. $35.