Monday, June 22, 2009

Mycologist's Paradise

This article was published at EiTB:

Mushrooms and Truffles

Igor Lansorena

Basque cuisine offers a great variety of recipes using mushrooms, making them a much-valued ingredient.

The Basque Country is a country of dedicated mycologists, or mushroom experts, as well as mushroom eaters, even though until several decades ago only very few species were eaten, out of the countless possibilities that can be found in woody and moist surroundings such as ours.

By keeping to the knowledge about the most valued mushrooms in Basque cuisine through the variety of recipes that our chefs offer, one can thus avoid long hikes in search of mushrooms as well as the risk of not distinguishing between edible and poisonous species.

Today our recipe books include varieties that until very recently were disdained, and this allows one to sample fresh mushrooms all year round.

Mushrooms are usually preferred grilled, baked, or scrambled with eggs, these methods being the best in order to appreciate the delicate flavors and textures of the different varieties. Perhaps the most exquisite is the "perretxiku" (lyophylum georgii), so fragile that it will not cope with sauces and is usually eaten scrambled with eggs. Lightly fried and then carefully blended with eggs, "ontto beltzak" (boletus edulis) are highly regarded.

The grill and the oven offer the perfect preparation for other widespread species such as "gibelurdinak", mottled or silvery (clitocybe nebularis and geotropa). Whether grilled, served with eggs, as a stuffing or a garnish, in shish-kebabs with meat, as a base for sauces, or even raw, the most commonly used mushrooms in Basque cuisine often include "senderuelas" (marasmus oreades), "barbuda" (corprinus comatus), "champiñon" (psalliota campestris), "pie azul" (rhodopasillus nudus/saevus), "niscalo" (lactarius deliciosus), and a long list of miscellaneous possibilities that can only depend on locations, time of harvest, and on the imagination of the gatherer.

It is also necessary to mention truffles, which are found in Araba, specifically in the area of Campezo, which, though not always considered by traditional cuisine, have incorporated themselves vigorously into modern cooking. In addition to scrambled egg, truffles have become one of the most luxurious additions to sauces, creams, etc. in Basque cuisine.

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