So far 2019 has been a flurry of house moving, getting back to work and dealing with both another gas leak and a bout of gastric flu. However I have managed to stay true to the promise I made at the end of last year, to seriously reduce the amount of animal protein in my diet for reasons of sustainability.
It hasn’t quite manifested as I’d thought. Originally I had envisioned a fairly strict regime, almost a timetable, with certain days and mealtimes being allotted for those ‘meat-treat’ moments. As it transpired the process has been a much more natural one. As my awareness of what I eat has slowly been nurtured throughout the past year, so I find myself acting on instinct. The whole concept of meat-eating now seems largely unattractive and although I am against the idea of extremes – ruling some things out completely is unhealthy for the psyche – I have encountered little or no opposition to what are becoming commonplace culinary habits.
You could say that my habits have mushroomed. As Rebecca Solnit writes in Hope In The Dark:
What we call mushrooms mycologists call the fruiting body of the larger, less visible fungus. Uprisings and revolutions are often considered to be spontaneous, but less visible long-term organizing and groundwork – or underground work – often laid the foundation.
Solnit is making a point about societal and ideological changes in a global context, but the metaphor stands for personal lifestyle rejigging too. As I let the ideas I first read about over a year ago ferment inside me so their power grew to the point where, now, I am fully embracing a new way of cooking and eating.
Stands to reason I should include a mushroom recipe in my first post of the new year. Indeed ever since I returned to China I have had a craving for fungi-based food. I had the foresight to buy a few packets of dried wild mushrooms to bring back with me, mixtures of chanterelles, ceps and horn of plenty, among others, and I’ve been scouring the mushroom varieties in the greengrocer’s – under new and friendlier ownership – finding selections of button, oyster and enoki.
Last night I followed an Ottolenghi recipe from his book Plenty. Before I came back I studiously went through all my mother’s cookbooks and magazines, taking photos of all the – mostly – vegan recipes I could find so I now have a ready collection to turn to. This mushroom ragout features both duck egg and sour cream, as well as butter at some point I think, but I omitted all these and to my mind didn’t make the dish worse for it.
A technique I learned was to cook the fresh mushrooms first in hot oil for a minute or two, not moving them around so that they browned on one side, before flipping them over to obtain an even golden-ness. The smell in the kitchen during this bit was heavenly and if I shut my eyes I could fancy that I was in fact frying a piece of steak. Once I’d removed the mushrooms I added half an onion, chopped, to soften with a bit more oil. I’d already put my dried fungi in to soak in warm water and I drained out the rich liquor to pour into the pan with a glug of red wine. I let the broth simmer with some thyme and a pinch of salt for about twenty-five minutes, after which I added all the mushrooms and reduced until I had a fantastic dark and glossy stew. I made croutons out of a baguette, toasting them in the oven with oil, salt and a garlic rub until crisp. Then it was a simple matter of stirring some chopped parsley into the stew and heaping it over the bread on the plate.
Absolutely fantastic this. I had thought to use polenta instead of the bread, cooking it then letting it cool before frying it up in wedges, but I couldn’t find any. It’s something I’d like to try in the future because I can see it working just as well.