There is a wild mushroom specialist at the Prahran Market – I like to think of him as “the mushroom man”. His name is Damian Pike and I imagine in Italian he would be l’uomo dei funghi. If you want to know anything about wild mushrooms, Damian is your man. And as mushroom season is autumn/early winter, he has been very busy. This year has been a particularly good mushroom season in Melbourne – we had an unseasonably warm autumn and are now enjoying wild mushrooms well beyond the time we would usually be eating them.
Although I bemoan that we do not grow fresh porcini mushrooms in Australia, we still have a great selection of wild mushrooms. This month, my pack of goodies from the Prahran Market included pine mushrooms (also called saffron milk caps) and slippery jacks. The latter were slightly slimy and odd, and as I was cleaning them I thought about one of my cousins, who lived next door when I was a child. She disliked the taste of mushrooms and was terrified that they would be poisonous. However she always ate them when her mother cooked with them. That way, if they were poisonous, then the whole family would die together and she wouldn’t be left behind. Unsurprisingly, she stopped eating them when she was older – I guess she worked out she would rather be alive than go out with the rest of her family!
Rather than making my usual risotto, or braising the mushrooms to be served with creamy polenta, I decided to make a mushroom soup as the weather has certainly been cold enough. I leafed through a few recipes and decided to take the advice of others and thicken the soup with potatoes. I then finished it off with a large dollop of creme fraiche and topped each bowl with a couple of reserved mushroom slices which I had sautéed in olive oil. I do not usually add potatoes but this was a vast improvement to my rather thin mushroom soups of the past.
And where there is soup, there must be bread – at least that is the rule in my house. The easiest bread to make at home is focaccia. The dough is mixed by hand and there is very little kneading required. You just need a warm spot and a couple of hours to allow it to rise. Following a recipe I learned when I was travelling through the town of Bari in Puglia late last year, I added a warm cooked potato to the dough. Before baking I topped the dough with the thinly sliced cipolline, a variety of tiny, slightly squashed, mild and rather sweet onions, which I had sautéed in a dash of olive oil. Served with a glass of Sangiovese, the soup and focaccia was a clear winner as a simple winter warmer meal (and you could also cheat and buy the bread…).
Before I get to the recipes, here are a couple of other (exciting) updates:
1. My cookbook Italian street food is now available on preorder from Amazon. The cover has just been finalised (so what you see on the link may not be the final one) and the photos on the cover look colourful and capture the essence of the book. It will be released on 11 October 2016 in the USA through Rizzoli Books and on 1 November 2016 in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Launch events have not been finalised yet but I will post details as soon as they become available.
2. I will be running “evening session” cooking classes in my home in North Fitzroy (Melbourne). Classes at this stage will be on a Monday night 5.45pm-8.45pm and I will be starting off with a gnocchi class on Monday 25 July 2016. Click here for details and to book. I will add more evening sessions in August if this class fills up quickly.
3. September promises to be an incredible month for me in Italy. Firstly, in conjunction with the good folk at Ristorante Michel-Angelo, I will running a series of half-day cooking classes on the idyllic island of Capri in the first 2 weeks of September. We will be preparing a 4-course Caprese meal either in the restaurant or in a private villa on the island (location depending on numbers). Click here for more details on the classes and how to book.
4. Secondly, there are still a couple of places for the 5-day workshop I am running with Fabrizia Lanza at the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School in Sicily from 19-24 September 2016. I feel so privileged to be spending this time in the heart of Sicily, with each day of the workshop focusing on a different ingredient, from its source to how it is prepared and then shared at the dining table. Click here for my page that describes the workshop and here for the details on the cooking school website.
I would love for you to join me either in Sicily or on Capri if you happen to be travelling in Italy during September.
mushroom and potato soup with cipolline onion focaccia - zuppa di funghi e patate con focaccia alle cipolline
focaccia with cipolline
Makes one 22cm focaccia
75g warm cooked Desiree potato (one small potato)
125g superfine semolina*
125g weak flour*
3g instant dried yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
175g tepid water
1/2 tsp salt
3 cipollina onions, peeled and finely sliced
(*you could also replace the semolina and weak flour with plain flour – so 250g plain flour as an alternative)
Place the potato in a small saucepan filled with cold water. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 25-30 minutes until fork tender. Peel, place through a potato ricer then set aside to cool slightly.
Whisk the two flours, dried yeast and sugar in a bowl. Add the potato (which should still be warm, not hot) and tepid water. Stir through using a wooden spoon, then add the salt. When it comes together, tip onto a floured work surface and knead for a few minutes until smooth then fold onto each other a couple of times.
Oil the base and sides of a 22 cm diameter cake pan. Place the mound of dough in the centre of the oiled pans (dough seam side down) and cover with a clean tea towel. Place in a draught-free part of the kitchen for at least an hour or until doubled in size.
In the meantime, cook the onions in a splash of olive oil in a small non-stick frypan for about 10 minutes until cooked through but not yet coloured. set aside to cool.
Heat the oven to 200C conventional.
With well-oiled hands and fingers, lift the dough from the pan and flip onto the other side. Push the dough back into shape in the pan using your fingers, so that the surface is covered with many small indentations. Top with the cooled cooked onions, drizzle on some EVOO.
Bake for 30 minutes, at which time it will be golden. Serve with mushroom soup (below). This focaccia is best eaten within 24 hours of baking – heat up in the microwave oven slightly if you would like to eat it warm once it has cooled.
mushroom and potato soup
serves 4 as an entree
275g wild mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
dash olive oil
400g potato,cooked, peeled and diced
100g cipollina onions (or baby leeks), peeled/cleaned and thinly sliced
1 litre vegetable stock
salt and pepper to taste
finely chopped parsley
creme fraiche (1 large dollop per person)
Place the potato in a small saucepan filled with cold water. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 25-30 minutes until fork tender. Peel, dice and set aside.
While the potato is cooking, sauté the cipollina onions (or baby leeks) in a dash of olive oil in a medium-sized, lidded saucepan for 10 minutes on low heat until transluscent, making sure they do not colour.
Place the sliced mushrooms in a small frypan with a dash of olive oil on medium heat and sauté for about 3 minutes. Reserve a few (for serving) and toss the rest in with the onion. Add the previously cooked diced potato and a litre of vegetable stock. Bring to the boil, cover, reduce the heat and cook for about 10 minutes. Now remove from the heat, blend using a stick blender, add salt and pepper to taste and return to the heat and keep warm until you are ready to serve.
Place the soup in warmed serving bowls, stir through a spoonful of creme fraiche (to taste), toss in a few of the reserved slices of mushroom, finely chopped parsely and serve with cipolline onion focaccia.