“MY WILD SIDE!” Buon giorno! Bet you think perhaps I’m about to reveal some deep dark untamed period in my youth. WRONG! I must say the subject of my musings today is wild and rather fervent—but not of the type you may have hoped I would share. Sorrrry!… no secrets revealed here. However, I must opine about a lifetime longing or passion for which there seems to be no means to abate. I LOVE WILD MUSHROOMS!! No not in the “like to have them once in a while sense” but more like I gotta have ‘em – “kind of hopelessly addicted sense”. (Before we get too excited – I do not refer to the naughty mushrooms of Alice’s “trip” to Wonderland – let’s get that straight right from the beginning!) I have been known to specifically shop for the wild mushrooms first and then decide what I would do with them much later. The ladies can relate as many of you understand the “need” for that amazing “must have them” pair of shoes that goes with nothing in your closet and perhaps might be more comfortable or appropriate housed in a museum than on the foot. YUP! That’s it! That’s the perfect comparison. Strangely, my addiction began at a very early age. Let me explain. In our house, wild mushrooms were revered. I experienced them early and often in my childhood and thought pretty much everybody did. I just loved them. My father, Attilio, would hunt for them at the suggested time of year. He knew several types of the “wild ones” and only picked those on his own. He was extremely careful about the ones he picked and always cautioned us about never eating or cooking with any we weren’t absolutely sure of because of the toxic nature of some species. He was so meticulous about the process of picking that we never worried much about getting sick. This is something he did not take casually. When he brought them home my mother, Loretta, froze them so we would have wild mushrooms to enjoy for months on end. One of my favorite dishes using the “wild ones” was a dish made with the mushrooms along with sausage, red wine, tomatoes, and, of course, red pepper flakes. Crusty Italian bread made this dish a runner-up to heaven. Because she froze so many of the mushrooms, we always were able to have Loretta’s amazing Wild Mushroom Risotto on New Year’s Day! Attilio especially loved the Popinki’s or Polish Honey Mushrooms. So we always had those at a surplus. One place he “hunted” Popinki’s was not far from our house in a wooded area on upper Glenwood Avenue in Binghamton, New York where we lived. He also picked a variety called a white, hooded type called Shaggy Manes – which he named Daisy Mae’s. (He had a name for everything and everybody! A couple of times a year Attilio would sometimes take my brother, Richard, who recalls a tree on upper Glenwood where they would harvest a large Ram’s Head (also called Hen of the Woods or Sheeps Head) mushroom every year with the permission of the owner. This large mushroom variety looks like a cabbage or a large flower and can weigh as much as 25 pounds! It has an earthy, “gamey” flavor. The larger ones are a little tough and are often found on Oak Trees and stumps. One year they eagerly returned for the mushroom and, sadly, the tree was gone. On many occasions, my Dad had a friend from the First Ward in Binghamton named “Coco”, who sometimes accompanied him and knew other varieties of wild mushrooms, and he would guide Attilio in picking those. As my father aged and could no longer “go picking”, Coco faithfully brought him a couple of baskets a year of the Popinki’s. Caution: I would not advise anyone to pick and eat wild mushrooms without a good deal of knowledge and recognition of what is safe or perhaps a degree in Mycology ( the study of fungi). Few types cause fatal results, but many can cause allergic episodes. You really need to know what you are doing here. Also, some areas where you might find them are protected. Wild mushrooms in so many varieties are not so wild anymore. My best advice is to buy them – buy them in quantity – and safely enjoy the HECK out of them! We are so fortunate now to have our local growers supplying so many different types to our Farmer’s Markets. Think LOCAL as much as possible! Even Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and your neighborhood grocers have gotten into the act. You will find everything you desire from the very dear Chanterelles to Trumpets to Porcinis to Creminis ad infinitum. If you haven’t tried them, you must. I insist you join me in this pursuit of these wild things! The difference is a tasty, earthy, sometimes buttery depth of flavor you could never experience in the average button mushroom. They add so much to every dish. You’ll be happy you did. Curiosity piqued? Just because, my enthusiasm for your trying these jewels knows no bounds – I will provide a luscious excuse for you to experiment. The following Pizza is one of our favorites –always a winner at our table - purely vegetarian – with ingredients that always deliver individually – but most certainly come together for a mighty crescendo of earthy delight. I guarantee, your guests will love this one. Troppo Bella!
PIZZA WITH WILD MUSHROOMS & THREE CHEESES
Begin with the recipe for Pizza Dough from our previous post Pizza – That’s Amore (click here for dough recipe) Or use your favorite store bought dough. Olive Oil – small amount to spread on dough Whole bulb of garlic roasted as per instructions below. Fresh mozzarella – grated or thinly sliced Assorted wild mushrooms – about 1/2 lb. Try to use some Shitakes as they provide a buttery flavor to the mix. Given a quick saute in olive oil, Kosher Salt and Pepper Fresh Rosemary and Fresh Oregano – about 1 Tbsp of each 3-4 oz. Goat Cheese Large Slivers of Ricotta Salata Cheese Extra Virgin Olive Oil Prepare dough and stretch onto stone or pan. Rub dough with a little olive oil. Roast an entire bulb of garlic: Remove the outer skins of garlic bulb. Place the bulb, with the top cut off exposing the cloves, in foil – drizzle with olive oil – add a little Kosher Salt – Seal the foil and Roast in 400 degree oven for 45 minutes. Roasted garlic is mild and nutty flavored and can be use in countless ways as its usually sharp, pungent and offending odor and taste is muted. When ready to apply to pizza – just gently squeeze bulb – the soft roasted cloves will ooze out easily. Squeeze roasted garlic directly onto dough – smash it and spread over dough. Place grated or sliced fresh mozzarella on dough. Saute fresh sliced wild mushrooms lightly in a tiny amount of olive oil, Kosher Salt and Pepper – Spread mushrooms over the pizza. Sprinkle with fresh oregano and fresh rosemary Dot pizza with Goat Cheese. Shave large slivers of Ricotta Salata Cheese over top. Place in oven at 500 degrees for 10-15 min. til crust is golden and crisp on the bottom. Drizzle with a little Extra Virgin Olive Oil to serve. I recommend my favorite St. Bernardus Belgian Abbey Ale with this pizza OR Hannibal Lecter’s favorite “a nice Chianti”! (Click here for Hannibal !)
PARLA COME MANGI!
Also: See the NEW RECIPE OF THE MONTH on LINDA’S ITALIAN TABLE!
Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography