One way to celebrate fall and to embrace the changing of the seasons is to cook with ingredients grown this time of year. Establishing traditions with seasonal ingredients helps us appreciate each season...even the cold ones. Each fall I look forward to the amazing pumpkin and squash, the apples.... and of course the beautiful chanterelles.
If I had to pick my favorite mushroom, chanterelles would be at the top of the list. They have such a distinctive taste. Woody and earthy with a hint of fruitiness. Their texture is meaty... yet tender.
Chanterelles grow in the Pacific Northwest during the cooler fall months. They live among the trees, in the dense and foggy forests of Douglas Firs and Western Hemlocks. They are difficult to cultivate, so most of the fresh chanterelles you see, truly are "wild". This is why you don't usually find them any other time of year. And this is what makes them extra special. When handling them, somehow you can't help but feel the forest they came from.
There is so much you can do with chanterelles. They are really delicious with pasta and risotto, in quiches, omelets or lasagna, where they are not overwhelmed by too many other ingredients. They can get lost easily so I try to make them the focus of whatever I am making with them.
What do you like to do with them? I would love to know.
I admit, yesterday I was feeling a little lazy. I had these beautiful mushrooms that needed to get eaten and I had such grand plans for them. But after a long day of already being in the kitchen, I ditched my plans and opted for something simple, easy and comforting. Chanterelles with Creamy Polenta. When paired with a creamy bed of soft polenta they are the perfect comfort food. Deeply satisfying...especially on days like this.
When choosing chanterelles...make sure they are a nice golden apricot color. They should be firm to touch and have no dark or slimy parts on them. Their gills should look in tact and clean. Chantrelles may hold quite a bit of debree (twigs, pine needles and dirt) in their tops because they grow among trees and brambles... so cleaning may be a chore.
A tip: when buying them, try to pick chantrelles that are already clean and that have less of a pocket at the top and this will make your job much easier. They can be found around town at stores like Huckleberries, the Main Market, the Rocket Market ....and sometimes, even at Costco. I usually call around before I get my car. The nice thing is they are growing in popularity, so they are becoming easier to find. They are not inexpensive, but worth a splurge at least once a year.
I have found that the best way to cook Chanterelles is either to sauté them or simply roast them in the oven with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.
Polenta is basically an Italian dish made from ground white or yellow cornmeal. There are many ways to make polenta. Below is a basic recipe that you can modify based on your preferences. Start the polenta first and let it cook on the stove while you prepare the chanterelles.
Saute them in a heavy bottomed pan or skillet with oil or a combination of oil and butter...being careful to not over crowd. You want them to have space to brown slightly. You could also add shallots, onion or garlic for flavor and sage, rosemary or thyme.
Once your polenta is cooked.. it's time to have fun. Experiment with different cheeses or add a little butter. If you are vegan you could try adding coconut oil and nutritional yeast which will give a nice richness.
I added goat cheese (because it was what I had on hand). Any meltable cheese would work. Some of my favorites with creamy polenta are parmesan, cheddar, gorgonzola and smoked gouda.
I started off with 1/4 cup of goat cheese....but ended up adding a little more.
Then taste for salt. Because cheeses have different saltiness, the amount of salt you will need will vary. If you used a flavorful stock you may not even need much salt. But most likely you will need a little.
Here is a lovely ingredient that will elevate your polenta. If you don't have it on hand, substitute fresh black pepper, but the next time you are at the store, pick some up and try it. You can buy whole white peppercorns and grind them with mortar and pestle if you don't want to devote your pepper mill to them.
I could do a whole post on white pepper because I have grown to love it so much. White pepper has a completely different flavor than regular black pepper.
It has a haunting sort of mustiness that I am very drawn to. I especially like using it in the colder months. It's hard to describe, but give it a try and see if you like it. Perhaps it is an acquired taste.
I use it often in creamy soups, in hummus and with white winter vegetables like parsnips and cauliflower.
White pepper is basically fully ripened pepper berries (the same kind as black peppercorns -which are not fully ripe) that are then soaked for several weeks to remove dark outer skin. I believe it is the longer ripening period that deepens the flavor and perhaps the soaking of the berries that gives the unique musty taste. It somehow tastes aged.... in a good way.
After you have stirred in your cheese and your polenta is creamy and seasoned to your liking, place it in bowls with a generous amount of chanterelles over top. If you are feeling extra luxurious, drizzle a little truffle oil just before serving.
Creamy Polenta with Mushrooms and Sage Recipe
4 c stock (or 4 c water with 1 tsp salt)
1 cup polenta
1/3 cup cheese
1 T butter
1/8 tsp white pepper
salt to taste
1/ 2 teaspoon Truffle oil ( optional)
2 cups chanterelles or other mushroom
1-2 T oil/butter
2 cloves garlic ( or onion or shallot)
1 T fresh herbs
To make the creamy polenta, heat 4 C of flavorful stock in a medium pot and bring to a boil ( or water and salt). Once it is boiling, turn heat down to low or off to avoid getting splattered. (Polenta "burns" are extremely painful - I have accumulated several scars on my wrists from hot polenta splashing up on me while doing this --so be careful.)
Gradually add 1 C polenta to the hot stock while whisking vigorously to avoid any clumping. Cover and let cook on very low for 20-30 mins before adding any "fats". Somehow this allows the polenta too oven up better. If you are using a course polenta you could cook longer. You could even cover the pot and stick in a 350F oven for 45min-1hour. But I was using a finer grind and just left in on the stovetop. You could stir every 5- 10 minutes if you want, but I normally just cover it leave it without a stir and it is just fine.
To make the Chanterelles, sauté them in a med-hot skillet with a mix of oil and butter so they are nicely browned. I added coarsely chopped garlic towards the end ( so it does not burn) and sage. Salt to taste. Serve atop your bed of delicious polenta.
This recipe makes 2 very generous portions.