Bad Habits and Magic Mushrooms

Bad Habits and Magic Mushrooms

Vitello e Funghi

I seem to have developed the curious local habit of never leaving the house without a busta—plastic bag.  After ridding our house of hundreds of hoarded plastic bags, I now can’t seem to get enough of them, and there is chiefly one reason for that— food foraging. It pains me to admit that I am now not only a bag lady, but also a forager.  Food foraging has become a somewhat twee, overly precious pastime in the much of the world thanks to the global rise of René Redzepi and the reign of hipsters everywhere.

Like many pesky habits, my food foraging developed so gradually that I failed to realize what was happening.  In Washington, my good friend Kareem and I liked to nance around Logan Circle with kitchen sheers, furtively snipping rosemary out of other peoples gardens.  We weren’t serious ‘foragers.’ We just couldn’t bear to purchase overpriced herbs at the Whole Foods so we pounced around our urban jungle gossiping about who we saw at the gym and what we would make for dinner, all the while snipping rosemary from public parks and private gardens.

And then I moved to Italy.

In my corner of Italy, everyone is always out on the prowl for foraged ingredients.  Parsley was my ‘gate-way drug’ of choice.  I started finding it on the road to our vineyard. That little head rush of snipping a wild herb, taking it home and cooking it would swiftly lead to other discoveries. Soon I started noticing arugula, wild onions, dandelion greens. I wondered if I was becoming one of them—a ‘food forager.’ But I threw my hang-ups to the wind, never leaving the house without my necessary paraphernalia : kitchen sheers and plastic bags.

And then, yesterday, my new, slow burning habit became a full-blown addiction. On a dewy spring morning, I was out on the hunt for parsley and I found something far more glorious than I could have imagined.  The heavens opened, angels hummed and there I saw it: a cluster of funghi spugnole, wild morels.

Funghi Spugnole

I degenerated into the food foraging maniac of my worst nightmares.  Ripping the fungus out of the ground, I stuffed several plastic bags full of mushrooms and ran secretly back to my house.  I would tell nobody where I found my fix.  This was my magic mushroom patch. Pouncing triumphantly back home, I stumbled upon wild asparagus. And that was it…. I knew then that I had become a forager.

Giuseppe and I quickly degenerated into little kitchen demons.  A family member had left us with perfect veal steaks, directly from his farm.  We made a simple dish of veal steaks and morel sauce.  The pleasure of eating was only eclipsed by the absolute exhilaration of hunting down those mushrooms. 

Today we share our veal recipe.  And in the meantime, I testily resign myself to the fact that I am, regrettably, both a bag lady and a food forager.  On the upside, neither Giuseppe nor I sport fedoras, handlebar mustaches or pocket watches, yet.......

Serves four moderately hungry people, and two really hungry people.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb veal cutlets, pounded to ¼” thick
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Cracked pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 minced shallot
  • 3 oz fresh morels brushed clean and cut in half (alternatively you can rehydrate dried morels in hot water and pat dry before cooking)
  • ¼ cup dry white mine(a nice flinty Chablis or a mineral forward Lacryma Christi work best)
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley

Instructions

  1. Warm vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet.
  2. Pat veal cutlets dry with paper towel.
  3. Rub salt and pepper into each side of veal cutlet.
  4. Place veal cutlets in skillet and brown on each side for approximately two minutes.
  5. Remove veal from skillet and set aside on serving platter.
  6. Reduce heat to medium and add butter to skillet.
  7. Add shallotp to butter and cook, stirring occasionally until translucent.
  8. Add morels and cook with butter and shallot for five minutes, stirring occasionally.
  9. Add white wine and reduce by one half.
  10. Add cream, and stir to incorporate into mushroom mixture. 
  11. Reduce heat to low and simmer for five minutes.
  12. Off heat and pour mushroom sauce over veal cutlets.
  13. Garnish with parsley leaves and serve immediately. Note: Contrary to silly rules about only serving red wine with red meat.  I prefer this dish with a mineral forward white wine such as Chablis or Lacyma Christi. These white wines better complement the characteristic  earthiness of the morels. 
Giuseppe and Morel

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