Blending the Heady Flavors from Forest and Vineyard is as Easy as Red, White, Rosé.
When not manning the stoves at his Napa Valley restaurant, Martini House, chef Todd Humphries likes nothing better than to comb the hillsides of California's wine country in search of wild mushrooms. "I love hunting and picking them almost more than eating them," he confides. "To be outside, surrounded by nature; knowing the signs and knowing where to go puts you in touch with the seasons. Maybe it's something primal, too, because gathering mushrooms connects me to what I do in the kitchen in an almost visceral way."
Like most mushroom foragers, Humphries won't reveal the locations of his favorite spots. But he does admit that the pristine, foggy Sonoma County coastline is a regular haunt. "From January through March, I find black trumpets, hedgehogs and yellowfoots [also known as winter chanterelles]," he says, naming just a few of the many tasty toadstools he delights in serving his dinner guests. "Spring is morel season. Late summer and fall are when I start finding boletes.
"I approach mushrooms as a main component," Humphries explains. "It's the meat of a dish, the center of attraction."
Like meats, mushrooms are also easy to pair with wine. Red wines such as elegant Pinot Noir, earthy Syrah or flashy Zinfandel each find favor with the foresty rich flavors and textures of these marvelous fungi, both wild and cultivated. Depending on the nature of a recipe, full-bodied, barrel-fermented white and dry rosé wines can also be matched well with these denizens of moist, cool places.
There are thousands of species of wild mushrooms, although only about 30 varieties are commonly used in cooking. Fortunately, some of the most delicious ones are the most easily identifiable. However, as Humphries recommends, only seasoned foragers should try to harvest mushrooms from the wild. The rest of us can readily find a fine selection throughout the year at specialty shops.
Chewy, delicious porcini, chanterelle and shitake mushrooms are among the few varieties that can be found hiding in the wild or on the grocer's shelf
Ironically enough, not all wild mushrooms are actually wild. Those that live in symbiosis with the roots of a host tree are the hardest to domesticate, because farmers must plant both the mushrooms and the trees to simulate nature. However, mushrooms that grow on decaying organic matter and do not need the partnership of a tree are widely cultivated. These include toasty, chewy shiitake mushrooms, originally grown in Japan but now found throughout North America.
Among the wild mushrooms most commonly consumed today, three are clearly favored in Californian cooking: chanterelles, morels and cèpes.
Golden-hued chanterelles are found throughout Northern California and the Pacific Northwest in the winter and fall. In Europe, they grow prodigiously throughout the summer.
A fun guy: chef Todd Humphries, of Napa Valley's Martini House, likes to forage for his own mushrooms.
Spring-loving morels prefer soils that hold onto the chill of winter. This distinctive-looking mushroom sports a spongy, domed cap. "I really love the smoky flavors of fresh morels," Chef Humphries says. "I like to grill them with olive oil and pepper until they're really crispy—almost like popcorn. We often enjoy them with sparkling wine, Riesling or Pinot Noir."
Cèpes, or porcini, have both a French and an Italian name. The French prefer them smaller and younger, when their undersides are white; Italians enjoy them larger, after they have turned yellow underneath.
Those who come up short on their foraging expeditions (in the wild or at their grocer) shouldn't despair. Common white button mushrooms also carry plenty of meaty, complex flavors. Cremini mushrooms are the brown versions of buttons, while portobellos are simply large creminis that have become firmer-textured and meatier.
Mushroom Matches The general rule of thumb to follow when pairing mushrooms with white wine is look for silky rich, full-bodied, barrel-fermented California Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. Other varietals—like Californian Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne—can also work well. If you favor French wines, which are more often labeled by region than grape variety, you'd do well to look for whites from Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley. Some dry rosés, like those from Tavel or Côtes de Provence, are also made in this full-blown style and will easily embrace the earthy, rich flavors to follow.
As for reds, almost any variety will do, particularly if the brand or region is known for earthy, terroir-driven flavors. Though it's hard to pick a red that wouldn't go well with mushrooms, Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir are the first matches that come to mind. Whatever the mushroom dish, it is, as always, important to take into account the dish's other ingredients before making a final wine selection. A delicate sole sauced with mushrooms in cream requires a much different bottling than would grilled hanger steak topped with shiitakes.
Tips To clean fresh mushrooms, it's best to wipe them with a damp cloth or rinse them quickly under cool water. Soaking them, or rinsing them too long, will make your 'shrooms soggy. Dried mushrooms can be a fine substitute for the fresh version. Just soak them in water for 15 minutes and strain to remove grit. Using hot water will speed up the process by a few minutes.
Grilled Morels with Arugula
Morels take on a savory, smoky and crispy edge in this simple recipe from Martini House's chef, Todd Humphries. Meatier mushrooms, such as portobellos, will have a slightly chewier consistency. This dish makes a great finger-food hors d'oeuvre.
8 ounces fresh morels
1/4 cup melted butter
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
Fresh ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
8 ounces arugula leaves
Trim and discard stems from the morels. In a large bowl, toss the morels with the melted butter and the olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Place the morels in a grilling basket or on metal skewers. (If using wooden skewers, remember to soak the skewers in water first, or they may burn.)
Over a hot charcoal grill or wood fire, grill the mushrooms, turning occasionally, until they are crispy, about 5 to 8 minutes. While the mushrooms are cooking, collect a few ounces of their juices by holding the grilling basket or skewers over a bowl for drippings. Combine the lemon juice with the mushroom juice. Toss the arugula in the mushroom/ lemon juice mix.
Arrange the mushrooms on a serving plate and garnish with the arugula. Serves 4 as an appetizer or first course.
Wine recommendations: When serving the morels as predinner nibbles, it makes sense to serve them with sparkling wine, a dry rosé, or a rich, barrel-fermented Chardonnay.
Wild Mushroom Ragout
From Dean & DeLuca: The Food and Wine Cookbook by Jeff Morgan (Chronicle Books, 2001).
Any number of different kinds of mushrooms—wild or not—can be cooked together in this fragrant ragout, or mushroom stew. Try to use at least two or three different types, however. The blend serves up a heady range of flavors and textures.
You may slice the mushrooms however you wish. Try to keep them relatively thick, though, as they will shrink significantly in size as they cook.
This saucy stew makes a wonderful centerpiece as a main course, accompanied by rice or polenta.
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
4 ounces pancetta or bacon, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoons dried thyme
1 1/4 pounds wild mushrooms, cut into thick slices or bite-sized pieces
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 cups dry red or white wine
1 cup chicken stock, or canned low-salt chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper, plus pepper to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flour
In a large flameproof casserole, Dutch oven or pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the pancetta or bacon until it begins to brown. Add the onion and stir until it is translucent. Add the garlic and thyme. Sauté for another minute or two. Add the mushrooms and toss gently. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to give up their liquid and reduce in size. Stir in the celery and carrots.
Add the wine, stock or broth, bay leaf, the 1/2 teaspoon salt and the 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until the carrots are tender, about 20 minutes.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and stir for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir this mixture into the ragout and cook until slightly thickened. Turn off heat, cover, and let sit for at least 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serves 4.
Wine recommendations: The ragout's bacon and dried herb components call for a smoky, earthy Syrah or Grenache from France's Rhône Valley. Côtes-du-Rhône, Vayqueras, Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape have the weight and spiciness to stand up to this hearty stew.
Black Trumpet Risotto
If you can't find black trumpet mushrooms, Chef Humphries says any dried wild mushroom will do for this savory rich, Italian-inspired treat.
2 ounces dried black trumpet mushrooms
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
1/4 cup bacon, diced small
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup onion, minced
1 cup arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
4 ounces unsalted butter
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped fine
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Place the dried mushrooms in a medium saucepan or pot with just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 10 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the mushrooms from the water and set aside. Strain the liquid through a cheesecloth or fine sieve to remove any grit. Reserve the liquid.
When the black trumpets have cooled enough to handle, pull them into threads to remove any grit that might still be stuck in their hollow stems. Plunge the mushrooms into 2 baths of cold water to rinse again. (This step is unnecessary for most other mushroom varieties.)
Finely chop the mushrooms and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the bacon and cook for three minutes. Add the garlic and onion and cook, stirring until translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the rice and stir for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the wine and raise heat to high. Stir and allow the wine to reduce until dry. Add the chicken stock, half at a time, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is slightly chewy. Stir in the Parmesan. Stir in the butter and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste and finish by stirring in the lemon juice. Serves 4.
Wine recommendations: Build on the dish's Italian ingredients by pairing with an Italian wine that is hearty enough to stand up to the risotto's creaminess. Wine Enthusiast recommends a Nebbiolo or Sangiovese.