Sunday, 29 March 2009

Rustic mushroom salad

Today, we put our clocks back an hour as Daylight Savings come to an end. I was hoping to take full advantage of this event by spending an extra hour in bed but of course with numeric confusion, I ended getting out of bed at 6; 2 hours too early which was a disappointment especially since it is Sunday.

Anyway, after breakfast and a trip to the markets, I made a warm mushroom salad and a ginger-pear cake for a late afternoon picnic at King's Park. The salad is one I have made quite often in the past but for some reason, I moved on to other salads. It made a reappearance sometime last week when I had to make it at work and had me wondering why I haven't made it for so long.

This is so very simple to prepare and Autumn is just the perfect season for it because mushrooms are cheap and in abundance. Of course you can try a variety of mushrooms but I recommend small, tight Swiss Browns and fleshy field mushrooms. Swiss Browns have a sweet-nutty flavour and hold their shape better during cooking while field mushrooms have a nice meaty texture - both excellent for soaking up the delicious savoury and vinegar-y cooking juices. Although this particular salad is inspired by Mediterranean flavours like fruity olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sweet basil and pungent garlic, other cultural renditions are just as good. For example, why not try shimeji, shitake and oyster mushrooms with chilli, garlic, spring onions, a dash of mirin and sesame oil then finish with a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds?

In a hot pan, saute some sliced red onions (I used 2 medium ones) until brown and slightly soft (don't forget the seasoning) then add 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan. Set aside, then in the same pan, saute some chopped garlic in your favourite olive oil then add mushrooms. Cook until mushrooms collapse, season well then add more balsamic vinegar to the pan (it should hiss, spit and sizzle!). Mix the cooked mushrooms with the onions then add lots of chopped sweet basil and a slug of good extra virgin olive oil. Crumble your favourite chevre or fetta atop and enjoy it warm with lots of grilled ciabatta.

And if you are feeling more industrious than usual, why not prepare a pot of soft polenta or creamy potato puree as a side dish. For our picnic, I roasted a large sweet potato I had cut into small chunks with nothing but a good splash of olive oil, salt and pepper. Topped with the mushroom salad, it made a very wholesome and nutritious meal - with Autumn's colours on a plate.

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