When people find out I was born in Russia, they’re all, “Is it really cold there?” I just shrug. I guess we had cold winters when I was growing up, but that’s not what I remember. You know what I do remember? Going mushroom picking. I’ve waxed Proustian about gathering mushrooms in the forest, and that’s what I think about whenever I cook with ‘shrooms. Granted, these days I usually use plain old white button mushrooms, not the fancy, rare varieties we picked down on the dacha, but making mushroom stuff still fills me with the warmest, fuzziest feelings on this side of my mom’s borsch.
Last weekend I marinated some mushrooms using a recipe from Anya von Bremzen’s Please to the Table. It needed quite a bit of tweaking--thanks to the Seasonal Cook for sharing her tips--and next time I may use another recipe altogether. Still, for a first attempt, these are pretty good and a no-brainer to prepare.
You clean a pound and a half of mushrooms (I used white button mushrooms, but you can use fancier ones if you have them), cover them with 2 cups of cold water and bring it to a boil. Then you add 1 tsp. kosher salt, and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Remove the mushrooms with a slotted spoon and strain out a cup of the mushroom liquid. In a small saucepan, add 1 cup of tarragon vinegar to the liquid, along with some peppercorns, bay leaves, and 1 tsp. sugar (I’d use 2 tsp. next time). Bring the liquid to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes. Cool. Put the mushrooms in a clean jar with layers of peeled garlic cloves and dill sprigs. Add the marinade and top with a tablespoon of sunflower or olive oil. Refrigerate for at least 4-6 hours, preferably a couple of days.
The mushroom soup I made to chase down my pickled fungi (mmm…) is not at all Russian, but I wanted something different from my previous soups. I soaked and cleaned some dried porcini mushrooms as described here. For the soup, I sautéed some chopped onions, carrots and celery in olive oil and butter in a heavy pot; added a sprinkle of sage and thyme; deglazed with white wine; and poured in 4 cups chicken stock, the dried mushroom soaking liquid, a splash of the mushroom cooking liquid left over from making pickled mushrooms, and maybe an ounce of goat cheese.
All this simmered for a little while; then I pureed it in a blender. I added the soup back to the pot, brought it to a simmer, and tossed in 1 peeled, chopped potato. In the meantime, I sautéed about ½ pound of sliced white button mushrooms in olive oil with a bit of bacon (maybe two slices) and some minced garlic. When the potatoes were done, in about 10-15 minutes, I added the mushroom chunks to the soup, stirred, and served the soup with tons of chopped dill and dollops of sour cream.