A Cooking Column with Bugs

Copyright © by Patrick Hamilton, Mycochef

I wanted to write just about food this time but once again somethings else are on my mind.

Hoppers--those teeny bugs that inhabit the undersides of the caps of mushrooms (oftentimes blewits)--should not be inhaled when sniffing the aroma of the gills. Avoiding this is good. Friend of mine couldn't. About two days later, while talking to me, I swear one of the little things crawled across his pupil, left to right, disappearing for a second, then on to the next eyeball before vanishing only to come out of his earhole at the end of his next sentence adding a weird punctuation to whatever it was he was saying. Hard to take a person seriously when that is going on around and in them. Kinda like if your partner says they love only you but there's a big old clump of last night's creamed spinach with black chanterelles and nutmeg dangling from their incisor.

Anyhow, okay, more hopper bugs. You know I once was looking at a blewit I picked out of our basket and thought, "Whoa, the spores appear to be very dark, and, uh, ah, moving. Moving?" Well, we knew it was then too late because Kathy and I had already put it with other L. nudas that before were hopper free but now they too were hopping and not only that they were being devoured rapaciously. You could actually see the gills vanish under their onslaught. "Locusts of the Lepistas" might be a good scary movie. I bet that if we'd been born with really big ears or if the hoppers had big mouths their chewing could have been heard. Maybe.

More bugs. During the week I have been doing a lot of work at the computer which is near my clothing closet and this has allowed me to see an ugly spectacle--just how many damn clothing moths have been flying around after dining free as larvae and getting fat on my dried stashes. I thought that I had gotten rid of them a month earlier. Not so. I discovered that I had lost three large bags of morels, two of boletes and two of black chanterelles. I hate those little insects but they love me for my mushrooms. (Not a relationship destined to end happily.)

You can kill these by clapping your hands on them, but don't miss--else they think (I vow this seems to be true) that you are applauding their eating efforts and that is just not good. Little bowing, curtsying bugs all over the place have been known to make people somewhat crazy.

If you are lucky with quick hands these nasty feasting flyers should splat in a sort of large muffled cloud of wing dust that seems to be way too much powder for them to have. If you can't hand smash them, you are in trouble because flying insect killer does not work--not even at close range (can't get through all that damn dust I think). They will laugh in your face and at your repellent spray and when they do, chunks of your chewed prize dried mushrooms will fall out of their little jeering mouths onto your floor. I feel bitterness when this happens to anybody, but especially to me.

But nothing bitter should be in a column on the cooking of wild mushrooms, so let's make something real good tasting to make us look good and seem sane to our friends.

Polenta Trifecta of the Marin Winter Woods

(The "trifecta of the Marin winter woods" is one of our many blessings here in the Pt. Reyes National Seashore where I live. On a good day hiking the hills of western Marin county you can find, if lucky, black and golden chanterelles [Craterellus cornucopioides and Cantharellus cibarius] with candy caps [Lactarius rubidus] fruiting in the same live oak and California bay tree habitats and then you might try the following recipe. Or if you do not have these three together just use any youse think might work).

—serves 6—

Adapted from a Jacques Pepin recipe.

This is a layered dish that is heated through in the oven then turned out onto a plate and sauced. It is easy to make if you are able.

Make the polenta with the above ingredients, keep warm and set aside.

The above measured then chopped and sautéed separately in butter or olive oil and set aside. Salt and pepper to taste. Keep separate.

The above measured then separately sautéed lightly in butter or olive oil and set aside. Salt and pepper to taste. Keep separate.

Put a little of the warm polenta into the bottom of a large oiled oven proof bowl. Put the black chanterelles and carrots as a layer in next. Add another layer of polenta. Add the candy caps and peas as a layer. Then another layer of polenta. Then the pine nuts and spinach. More polenta then finish with the golden chanterelles. This is, of course, an arbitrary order of things and of mixes--if others appeal to you then by all means use them and call it your recipe. . . .

Serve with maybe a Bechamel (white sauce) made with leeks, nutmeg and bay or a fresh tomato sauce with roasted garlic. Put an attractive serving plate over the oven heated polenta and quickly turn over to release. Spoon either sauce over your creation--or use both sauces for a real treat. You will not be bothered by bugs if you make this dish in the right order of layers.