When I was growing up in Russia, there was no pre-made convenience food. The Russian food scene in the 1980s was still a long way from fast food and take-out. What we did have were potatoes and handpicked wild mushrooms, fried up and served with sour cream. In fact, this is very popular Russian food, practically a national dish. In her Russian cookbook, Please to the Table, Anya von Bremzen writes: "This is the quintessential Russian dacha [summer country home] dish...For me the dish never fails to evoke the happiest memories of childhood--of my last summer days at the dacha, the height of the mushroom season..."
Oh, man, this just makes me sigh. I, too, went mushroom hunting in the country as a child, a fact I love to romanticize. Who knows, maybe I hated mushroom-hunting as a kid. For all I remember, it could have been tedious or exhausting. Chances are, however, that I will never pick wild mushrooms in the Russian countryside again, so I'm entitled to a little faux-nostalgia. (As far as I know, good eating mushrooms don't grow in Wisconsin--and if they did, I'd be very cautious about picking them. I have no experience identifying American wild mushrooms. Seriously, don't eat wild mushrooms unless you can ID them and, you know, not poison yourself.)
These days I make a modernized version of this meal, making do with healthier roasted potatoes and store-bought white mushrooms. Anya recommends frying the mushrooms in butter for an authentic meal, but I prefer my mushrooms pickled. (Not fast, but convenient if you make a large batch.) I've been toying with pickling recipes for the past year, and I've come up on the best one yet. It's by Russian-born writer Julia Ioffe, as published in the fall/winter 2009 issue of Russia! magazine.
For the potatoes:
Preheat the oven to 425. Peel some potatoes--Yukon Gold work best. Slice lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick matchsticks. Place in a foil-lined pan, sprinkle with salt and ground black pepper and drizze with olive oil. Roast 20-25 minutes, turning often, until the potatoes are done.
For the mushrooms:
(Recipe modified from Julia Ioffe)
-1 pound white mushrooms (unless you're one of the luckies who has access to fancy-pants chanterelles, etc.)
-handful black peppercorns
-handful whole cloves
-2-3 bay leaves
-1 tbs. salt
-1.5 tbs. white vinegar
-1 tsp sugar
-1.5 cups water
Wash the mushrooms and scrub off the dirt. If the mushrooms are very large, slice in half. Place in a large pan, cover with water, bring to a boil; then simmer 20 minutes.
Drain the mushrooms (or save the mushroom stock for soup). Transfer the mushrooms to a clean glass jar.
In a small saucepan, combine the peppercorns, cloves, bay leaves, salt, sugar, vinegar and water. Bring to a boil. Pour over the mushrooms in the jar. Toss in a couple of small, peeled garlic cloves if desired.
Let sit at room temperature for a few hours. Taste the liquid and adjust the seasonings. Then transfer the jar to the fridge and let the mushrooms marinate at least 48 hours. Mine were great after 72 hours.
Serve with roasted potatoes. Top with chopped parsley or dill, and sour cream.