Saturday, March 13, 2010

"U" is for Unbelievable Mushrooms

Recently, owner, friend and chef extraordinaire from Rare restaurant on Brock Street in Peterborough, handed me a bright red-orange and wonderfully lumpy ingredient.

“A gift,” he said. His eyes twinkled with excitement. You would have thought he was Jack T. Colton, soldier of fortune in the 1984 movie Romancing the Stone, handing me the treasure. “A lobster mushroom,” he said.

I had sampled lobster mushrooms in dishes before, but I had not actually seen one whole until this moment. The mushroom’s colour resembled the red-orange shell of a cooked lobster. I felt giddy, knowing Brad had just given me a hard-to-obtain culinary gem.

When I put the mushroom up to my nose to smell it, one question immediately came to mind. “What wine would harmonize with the damp woody smell of this British Columbian delight?” I had a plethora of wines to consider.

Fresh lobster mushrooms are a rare find in Ontario. I have chef friends who have only tasted dried versions of this exotic Canadian west coast fungi. In fact, this is not a mushroom at all, but rather a parasitic ascomycete that grows on mushrooms, turning them lobster red.

Grown in areas, such as Vancouver Island, lobster mushrooms are firm, but softly textured with a distinctive woody smell and taste. Some say the mushroom smells like sweet cooked lobster. I don’t think so. I think its woody character makes it an ideal ingredient for a wine offering earthy aromas and flavours.

That evening I cut the mushroom in half, deciding to incorporate its flesh into 2 meals. Using fresh tomatoes, garlic, fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar I made bruschetta on toasted Italian bread for my husband and parents.

This appetizer had an overall tangy taste from the tomatoes and balsamic, calling for a chilled pinot noir. We sipped Pelee Island Winery 2007 pinot noir, VQA, (CSPC # 135939), $12.45. What I love most about Pelee Island wines is that they are predictably good from year to year. It’s difficult to get a pinot noir at this price, let alone one with loads of flavour. At $12.45 per bottle, this is the ideal price to spend on a wine that you’re serving with an appetizer. The wine is light bodied with good tangy notes with earthy flavours that gently drew the palate’s attention to the woody flavour of the lobster mushrooms. This bruschetta can be made with shitake mushrooms, as well.

While the mushroom provided earthy notes to the bruschetta, I did feel that it had competed with the big flavour of ripe tomatoes. So, I decided to feature the second half of my fungi in a pasta dish the following evening. Brad had suggested I keep the pasta dish simple, sautéing the thin slices of mushroom in quality olive oil with fresh minced garlic, fresh herbs, and salt and pepper. I made this pasta sauce according to his directions, tossing it with a bowl of hot spaghetti. I sprinkled the dish with freshly grated parmesan. The mushroom flavours shone through this time, adding exotic flair to such a simple meal. Any Spanish red, with an earthy quality, will work with this dish. You can use any wild mushrooms in this dish, as well.

My husband and I sipped a glass of Tapena 2008 tempranillo, (CSPC 72942), $13.95. This Spanish red is also a culinary gem, medium bodied with earthy, chocolate and coffee tones on the nose and palate. It is a delightful quaffer at a reasonable price.

Tempranillo is one of the most popular grape varieties grown and vinified in Spain. This particular Tapena red is bold enough to work with beef, lamb, duck and game meats, and of course, lobster mushrooms.

Tapeña wines are generally fruit forward. You may recognize this winery byone of its most famous wines called “Freixenet.”

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