FEASTING ON FUNGUS: A Bit of Autumn Decadence

Recipes kindly sponsored by Flahavan’s

Lots of winter chantarelles

It’s a good Autumn for mushrooms, almost too good. On occasion we have looked at our “bag” (more correctly, basket) and thought, What the hell? Let’s freeze them. I have also broken with the habits of a lifetime and not cooked all of the ceps that we picked, keeping some for the next day (in the fridge, where they store pretty well).

Ceps are such a delicacy, the most expensive wild mushroom to buy as it happens, that I’m driven to feast on them.

Pretty but POISONOUS

Oddly enough, I’ve never done a course in mushroom hunting. I started when I ran the Field Club at Belvedere in the 1970s and I am horrified to recall that, armed with just a book, I picked a whole lot of Parasols on the Kilruddery estate near Bray and not only brought them home to cook but sent a dozen or so fellow pupils off to do the same.

Fortunately, I had identified them correctly and while the giant Parasol is hard to get wrong some of the smaller Lepiota species are seriously toxic.

Over the years I have learned about what the books call the choice edibles and I manage to identify and eat them without mishap, at least so far. It has involved careful reading, always using at least three books, sometimes getting a spore print, occasionally emailing a photograph to an expert.

Cantharellus tubaeformis and Cantharellus cibarius

At this stage I’m safe to pick ceps and the other edible Boletus species, the two chanterelles (or girolles as they tend to be called in Ireland) Cantharellus tubaeformis and Cantharellus cibarius, saffron milk cap Lactarius deliciosus, common hedgehog fungus Hydnum repandum, the Parasol Macrolepiota procera, the amethyst deceiver Laccaria amethysta and both the field mushroom and the horse mushroom Agaricus campestris and Agaricus arvensis.

I suppose my favourites have to be ceps Boletus edulis and the common chanterele (which I wish were more genuinely common) Cantharellus cibarius and I want to share here two simple but rather decadent recipes.

One is for cépes á la Bordelaise (I generally use the alternative spelling ceps but they don’t in Bordeaux and this is where the recipe originated). There are several versions. Elizabeth David in French Provincial Cooking quotes Alcide Bontou, author of a 1929 book on the cuisine bourgeois of Bordeaux who commentss that “The cépe was little known in Paris forty years ago and was not listed on restaurant menus; I was the first to bring them specially to the Café Anglais. Parisians could not accustom themselves to the oil and the seasoning of garlic; we tried to cook them in butter but the only way to prepare them is in the Bordelais way.”

Basically, you sauter your ceps in a lot of olive oil, throw in some garlic and parsley, cook a little more and finally you may (according to M. Bontou) add some breadcrumbs. This is, indeed, a fine dish and I’m happy to accept that it’s the true version. And when I use it, I do indeed throw in the breadcrumbs.

However, I have two minor objections, purely on a personal level. You see, I believe that ceps have a particular affinity with butter and, secondly, I generally avoid bread and breadcrumbs when eating at home because I like to eschew refined carbohydrates. And believe me, my version of this dish is pure LCHF heaven. (I should explain this is not so much a diet as an eating regime; Google it. It works).

Anyway, I take my ceps, ideally small ones where the sponge-like gills are still young and fresh enough to eat, and slice them fairly thickly from the top of the cap to the base of the stem. I heat butter in a heavy pan until frothing and cook the slices of mushroom, in a single layer, until each has browned a little. This requires cooking the ceps in small batches but it has the merit of caramelising the cep juices which start to smell truly beguiling.

As each batch is cooked, take them out with a slotted spoon and put aside; add more butter as required; it is almost impossible to use too much. When all are cooked add a finely chopped plump garlic clove to the pan and turn the heat right down. Soften the garlic for not much more than a minute.

Ceps at their best

Now add a small handful of finely chopped flat-leaved parsely and cook for about 20 seconds. Then return all of the ceps to the pan, turn up the heat and stir until you reach serving temperature. At this stage, all that is needed is some freshly ground black pepper.

I suppose it’s not a great surprise that a simple, straightforward claret is one of the best things you can drink with this.

How do you turn a basket of wild mushrooms into a main course? Well, the Italians tend to combine them with rice and create various risotti. This is something I do a lot.

But being in Ireland, I like to combine them with potatoes and bacon, not just as a nod to ancestral cooking, but because they are all made for each other.

This is a variation, with considerable liberties, on tartiflette. It’s rich but immensely comforting, intensely savoury and I suppose you could always leave out the spud if you’re going totally LCHF. It would be good even made with the big flat cap mushrooms from the supermarket.


serves 2
A lot of butter
385g mixed mushrooms: ceps, chanterelles, hedgehogs
250g bacon lardons
130g onion, roughly chopped
330g potatoes, cut into small cubes
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
250g crème fraîche
some double cream
225g Durrus cheese, cut into small cubes

Set the oven to 200ºC, gas mark 5.

Our take on tartiflette

Melt a large knob of butter in a heavy pan, melt and heat. Divide the mushrooms into halves and cook first one batch, then the other, until starting to brown and caramelise. Transfer to an ovenproof dish.

Cook the lardons on the pan until just starting to crisp. Add to the mushrooms.

Melt more butter on the pan and soften the onions. Add to the mushrooms. Melt even more butter and cook the potatoes until they start to colour. Add the garlic and cook for a further 30 seconds. Add to the mushrooms.

Mix all of the ingredients well together. Mix the crème fraîche together with enough cream to make it thickly pourable, then pour over the other ingredients.

Finally, dot the top with the cubes of cheese and bake until bubbling and turning rather golden, about 25 minutes.

It’s rich but very good with a slightly bitter green salad with a sharp mustardy dressing. And a tart white wine. Alsace Riesling would hit the spot.

Never eat a wild mushroom which you cannot absolutely identify as an edible variety. Many of our most lethal mushrooms look perfectly innocent and a single one can kill a family. Expert advice is essential.