We do not stop the world when we eat;
we go into it a little more deeply.
Olafur Eliasson (Noma)
Allow me a paintbrush, a palette…a pile of artistic licence to tell of some friends of mine and their wild ways. Boys they are, a huddle of them, bare’ approachable and and not easy to handle. They can’t be tethered down and one won’t find them for looking. But, one might come across them…
On the foreshore by night fighting the tide for a last Sea-bass; atop a tree, gathering Plums to pot a Pigeon in; plucking a Greylag large to feed a crowd. Adventurous with tastes, unperturbed by roadkill, they’ll be smoking Mackerel in a filing-cabinet-cum-smoker; cooking Mullet in milk for fishcakes; stewing Cockles in a split can of cider on an open fire; barbecuing Samphire. How very nineteenth century lyrical said a friend as I rhapsodised about baskets of Ceps, and indeed, these are the Huck Finn’s of today, the unassuming artistes of forage.
Last I called by, Muntjac was roasting in the oven, surfaces brimming with mushrooms gathered, some dried, a hoard: Shaggy Parasols; Chanterelles, orange and sweet-apricot-scented; something blue. Another fellow appeared a basket in his hand large to gather wood, in it full - Penny-Buns, Ceps, plentiful as a baker’s.
We ate then Parasol:
The cap cut into long, thick strips, doused long in egg and salt and pepper breadcrumbs, fried quick and served slathered unashamedly in mayonnaise. A dream.
Parasol Mushrooms in Bowl of Apples
The Ceps so plentiful I took some home.
This weekend, another scene: ‘midst fashionistas, florists and folklorists, stepping the streets of London town… On gathering my basket and boots to return home, risen at dawn to the cockney cries of Columbia Road Flower Market, pressed into my hands was a copy of Noma, Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine by René Redzepi. I have long hankered after this book and was delighted to be given it. (Thanks Laur!) It is indeed an extraordinary book, but with over half of the pages covered in photos worthy of the wall, it is not a manual. The recipes themselves, so daunting that I’m glad I didn’t turn to it to cook my Ceps, relying instead on friendly advice and Elizabeth David (see below).
Indeed, I now understand that the book is less a cookbook and more a book to wander through, wonder at, that tells of the story behind the Michelin starred Copenhagen restaurant Noma. No longer silent, secret, unassuming; at Noma forage is ostentatious, it’s an artform plucked or peacocking, it is the very edgiest of foodthinking, where food overlaps with artthought and critical theory. But on closer inspection, I am also ready to bow to this. Of René’s moment of illumination, he writes:
I realized that we had to exploit the seasons in a better way, so that you could only get a particular dish here and now. We should explore the extremes of nature, seek out the thousand or more species of edible fungi, the many wild plants, roots and seashore plants. […] The guests dining at Noma should feel a sensation of time and place in their very bones.
Ingredients were thus combined not only with those of same season, but those of their natural habitat. If venison was on the menu, the meat should be served with snails, pine shoots and mushrooms. Thus recipes such as: Bouillon of Steamed Birchwood, Chanterelles and Fresh Hazelnut; Stone Crab and Beach Mustard, Cockle Gel or simply Snails and Moss. And abruptly, the nineteenth century lyricists and the uber modern restaurant look no longer askance upon one another, artistes the both.
Not Ceps and Poached Truffle Meringue (à la Noma) but Cèpes à la Bordelaise (Elizabeth David) with Brown Rice Risotto.
In her French Provincial Cooking, Elizabeth David quotes the recipe of Alcide Bontou (refer to the book to read more). I shall do likewise:
“Choose 12 firm cèpes, small rather than large, and with dark heads; remove the stalks and peel them, but only wipe the heads; make incisions on the underside of the heads with the point of a knife. Put a glass of olive oil in a frying-pan; when it is hot, put in the heads of the cèpes; turn them over when they have browned on one side. Season with salt and pepper.
Chop the stalks with four cloves of garlic and some parsley. Throw this mixture over the cèpes. Let them all sauter in the pan for 3 or 4 minutes.
You may add a tablespoon of soft white breadcrumbs. Serve.”
I made a pseudo-risotto with Short Grain Brown Rice, butter, Shallots, Bay-Leaves, White Wine and Wighton, a local creamy but hard cheese. And served the Ceps on top. Divine.
Another great friend, longdeserving of a blog post dedicated to her green fingers, her inexhaustible creative energy and her kitchen concoctions, whose latest addition to the home is a goat in the back garden (soon I hope we’ll be on milk and cheese)… makes a Puffpall Pâté of such flavour it is also worthy of Michelin stars.
I haven’t the exact recipe, and I rather doubt there is one. Try:
Chop and very gently fry up Puffballs with Garlic and Cumin in Butter. Blend the lot adding Salt and Pepper or a touch of Soy Sauce. Spread on bread for a deeply mushroom flavour edged with garlic and cumin. You could also try adding cream, cream-cheese.
If you do attempt this let me know!
-The Noma cookbook is indeed a gift, only on the verge of my foray into it, I hope to write more anon.
-Writing at first light, I espy another forager: a grey squirrel feasting on the last of the overripe Bullace.
(In postscript - now mid-November, a friend writes from wild woodlands of Tuscany: I strongly reccommend Parasol Mushrooms, ripped, dipped in Egg, Breadcrumbs, Garlic and drizzled in Lemon Juice... As only yesterday Amelia came across a field thick with same Macrolepiota procera, I too hope to try this in the week.)