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Organic Annie: foraging for wild mushrooms

This week Annie investigates the revered tradition of island mushroom foraging and shares with us a couple of her favourite (and it has to be said, exquisite) recipes.

It is late, late autumn on Ibiza and we have finally had a nice cool rain following an abnormally warm, dry season. Much anticipated, it is time to take to the dampened Ibiza forest to forage wild mushrooms. The seasonal change in the forest is staggering, from the dry and sun scorched Mediterranean scent of wild rosemary and thyme to the cool, clean rich scent of pure earth, a smell like standing in an ancient forest somewhere else in time. Foraging is one of the great pleasures of life on Ibiza, and for me mushrooms are the best of all things wild. Ibiza's edible wild mushroom, the Rovellon, is a true culinary prize.



Cat Milton, Ibiza Spotlight Editor, and I (pictured above) had the great fortune to spend a morning in the woods on the very first good day of foraging with my friend Sally Riera's father and brother in law, Ibiza Rovellon experts, Vicente Riera and Pepe Cardona, who had like me, been waiting for the cool rain to kick start the season. Vicente and Pepe were enthusiastic and generous teachers and a fabulous time was had.

Even greater fortune was the invitation to lunch to eat the mushrooms in one of the Riera Lock family favourites, Frita de Porc amb Pabrassos. Sally, Vicente and her Mom, Betty Lock are all fantastic cooks and they take their family food seriously. It was Betty in the kitchen that day and she cooked up one of the best local dishes I have tasted. In all honesty, there is no photo, I was over enthusiastic about the eating bit and forgot, apologies. Sadly, for Cat, she missed the lunch due to a previous engagement, but she took the beautiful photographs during the earlier foraging.

Etiquette of Foraging

There is a real art and etiquette to foraging Rovellon. Hunters have their favourite spots, if lucky enough to be taken do not return to the spot on your own and further, keep the location secret. It's only polite, in mushroom season - the woods are full and ground is sacred. Cars can be seen parked on the sides of dirt roads all over the middle of nowhere, all prospective foragers.



And when collecting, gently brush aside the leaves, needles and dirt that obscure the mushrooms, so as not to disturb the forest floor. Lift the side a little and look for the Rovellon trademark, a dark red gill on the underside. When scraped, it is the colour of blood. Cut the mushroom cleanly with a small sharp knife, leaving some stem intact. It insures regrowth the following year. And no clomping through the woods, watch where you step, crushing before spotting is an opportunity missed.

Safety

Warning and it's serious - DO NOT TRY THIS UNAIDED BY AN EXPERT. Many of the wild mushrooms look very much the same. A case of mistaken identity can cause serious tummy trouble or worse, much worse. The number of times I shouted, “Is this one?” and only be told no is huge. Identity is everything.



Once foraged and identified correctly, serious culinary pleasure awaits. In absence of an expert, Rovellons can also be bought, as can a very similar, nearly as delicious variety shipped in from the Peninsula. Look for them in the small shops in the campo, in the Sta. Eulalia market, Maria and Juan's stall, numbers 18 and 19, or Mercat Nou, Ibiza Town. They are a bit expensive, especially the wild ones, but there is a lot in a kilo, and it is a heavenly autumn treat.

Cleaning and Storage

Mushrooms are divine and delicate and getting the most out of them requires a little TLC. This is especially true of the imported kind. They are not as dense or firm as the foraged. Never, under any circumstances wash a mushroom, even if it is completely covered in dirt and pine needles, as the wild ones frequently are. Scrape off what you can, if the mushroom is wet, let it sit out to dry, then brush it with a pastry brush or a clean dry soft cloth. Cooking a wet mushroom is fatal, they wind up spongy and the wonderful earthy flavour turns to water.

After cleaning, storing is best done in the fridge, loosely wrapped in paper kitchen towels. The paper absorbs any water produced by chilling. Never put or leave them in plastic, they begin to sweat almost immediately. I pull mine out of the fridge an hour or two at least before cooking to allow a little extra drying time.

Recipes:

Frita de Porc amb Pabrassos (Fried pork with Mushrooms)

This is a fantastic traditional one pan Ibicencen recipe. Do try this at home, it's divine and easy to prepare. The Spanish names for the cuts of meat have been provided to avoid confusion at the butcher. Use a heavy bottomed casserole type dish if possible.

For best presentation, when preparing the pork and the vegetables, it is best to cut the meat chucks the same size, or ask the butcher to do it. Cut the peppers into strips and the potatoes in to slightly bigger pieces.



Serves 4

500 gr potatoes, the older. the better. Fresh have more water and it is difficult to crisp when frying. Sliced in to chips.
2 or 3 pork ribs, (costillas de cerdo), cut in one inch pieces
2 2cm strips of pork belly, (panceta), cut into chunks
2 colored pork loin, (lomo 2 colores), from close to the neck, it is tender and flavorful, cut into chunks
3 bay leaves
Olive oil
6 cloves of garlic, skin on
2 red peppers
400 gr mushrooms

Salt the meat and leave to rest
Fry the potato chips in a good quantity of olive oil.
Remove potatoes to drain on paper towels, pour oil into a separate container.
Heat 2 Tablespoons of clean olive oil using the same pan, fry the pork belly until cooked through and slightly crisp. Remove to a bowl.
Heat the oil in the the same pan again add the ribs and fry. When the ribs are half done add the loin, the garlic and bay leaves. Remove to the pork bowl when cooked.
Reheat the pan and with the same oil fry the mushrooms lightly. Take care to handle the mushrooms gently so as not to break them up.
Remove to bowl with pork.
Reheat pan and cook the red peppers.
Mix all of the ingredients together and leave it to rest to marry the flavors.
Warm before serving.
Traditionally served with a mixed green salad and bread. I love the garlic cloves, remove the skin and spread them on bread, laced with olive oil and salt.


Wild Mushrooms on toast:



Serves 4
This recipe is included not only because I forgot to shoot Betty's exceptional dish, but because, off island, Spanish wild mushrooms are fantastic and available all season and into the winter. It photographs well and is completely delicious! Our family eats it a lot. It can also be served alongside a roast chicken, on pasta or more elegantly, alongside a fillet of beef.

The most important tip, cook the mushrooms according to size and density. Those that are light and delicate, add last and cook only for a minute. Feel your way, take notes for the future and prepare for divine eating.

4 slices of fantastic toast. See note below.
1/2 k mixed mushrooms, not button. Clean delicately. Cut those that are very big and dense. Leave the medium and smaller size whole. Try to organize mushrooms so the same types are cut relatively similar in size.

2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons butter
1/4 cup brandy
1/4 cup cream
2 cloves crushed garlic
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme, optional
pinch cayenne pepper.
Salt and pepper to taste.

Heat the butter and oil to hot. pan should sizzle, add a drop of water to test, but get it to near smoke point.
Add the biggest densest mushrooms, sautee a minute or so, add the next biggest and so on until most are added. Do not add the delicate, they will overcook.
Add 1/2 half of the brandy, the thyme, a pinch of salt, a few turns of the pepper mill and the pinch of cayenne. It will sizzle and smoke a bit, shake pan, cook until absorbed, very quick.
Remove mushrooms to a bowl
Heat pan again, add cream and remaining brandy, bring to a boil, thicken a bit, pinch salt, a few turns of the pepper mill.
Return mushrooms to the pan plus the most delicate, shake to coat, heat through
Correct seasoning and don't overcook!
Put the toast on the plate, drizzle a little extra olive oil and salt, put the mushrooms on the toast, serve and eat immediately.
If you feel the mushrooms taste too heavy, add a little lemon zest to brighten the flavor.

Toast Note: Think fabulous English pullmans bread or if you live on the Island, Country bread. Es Pins Restaurant, Ibiza/San Juan Road in San Lorenzo, makes a fabulous loaf. I also use it for the Rovellon stuffing at Christmas dinner. For that recipe along with a full suite of Christmas treats please look out for next weeks Christmas Dinner feature.

For your safety, we reiterate the advice that you should not undertake mushroom foraging on Ibiza, unless in the company of an expert or on one of the many guided walks provided by the islanders.

To see other articles by Annie Sijmonsbergen, please click here - Organic Annie on Ibiza Spotlight

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