Back when we were living in the city, we borrowed a scrappy and crumpled old book from the local library called Urban Dreams, Rural Realities by Daniel Butler and Bel Crewe. It was about a couple who had moved from London to the Welsh countryside to live life on a smallholding and we were curious to hear their story. Two weeks later we’d both read it from cover to cover. Our favourite passages were the foraging stories, where Dan and Bel talked of trekking through remote forests for hours on end, gathering basketfuls of edible mushrooms. They spoke too of learning to make their own pasta in order to come up with a worthy accompaniment for their bosky gems. Not surprisingly, for Christmas that year, we inadvertently bought each other exactly the same gift: a fungi identification book and wooden-handled mushrooming knife. Plus we managed to get hold of a pasta machine in the January sales.
Keen as we were, our urban mushroom foraging attempts were thoroughly unsuccessful. It was when we moved to Somerset that we decided to try again. After a few trips, we found our first edible mushrooms on a mossy bank under the dappled shade of a coppice. Two tubs of perfect hedgehog mushrooms with caps like chamois leather and undersides covered in tiny breakable spines. From that moment on we were obsessed. Like Bel and Dan, we have an ordinance survey map marked with our top-secret foraging spots, and when we’re on a walk we regularly convince ourselves that we can smell mushrooms on the breeze.
There has been a lot of rain here recently, which tends to encourage mushrooms to pop up. So yesterday, at first light, we headed out into the woods kitted out with our favourite guide book, mushrooming knifes, a flask of tea and a couple of pink apples for breakfast, to begin our search. After an hour or so of happily walking in small circles, scouring leaf litter and tree trunks for any emerging fungi, the trip yielded a paper bag of little apricot-scented chanterelles (also known as girolles). They were growing in a tiny swathe under the sprawling branches of some mature beech trees. We cooked the golden mushrooms with a generous amount of sage and garlic, and tumbled them on top of some forest-green Nero di Toscana kale from the vegetable patch and tagliatelle, made with the freshest of eggs from the chickens. An early autumn meal that cost just pennies to make, but felt like complete luxury.
N.B. Bel and Dan’s book appears to be out of print now, but we bought a second hand copy of our own for just a penny on Amazon, so it’s still pretty easy to get hold of you you fancy giving it a read.
Chanterelle, Kale and Purple Sage Tagliatelle
Chanterelles (usually sold under the name girolles), seem to be rather pricey to buy, so if you don't wish to forage your own or shell out at a market, this will work just as well with chestnut mushrooms.
- 250 g fresh tagliatelle (or 150g dried)
- 150 g kale (Nero di Toscana or Cavolo Nero work well), stalks removed and thinly shredded lengthways into long strips
- 1 tsp of butter
- 1 desertspoon of sunflower oil
- 200 g chanterelle mushrooms
- 1 fat clove of garlic, minced
- 10 purple sage leaves, finely chopped (use green sage if you can't find the purple variety)
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 100g mascarpone cheese
- 50 g parmesan cheese, grated, plus extra for serving
Bring a deep saucepan of salted water to the boil. Add the tagliatelle and kale and leave to bubble away for around five minutes, until the pasta is al dente and the kale is cooked through (if you're using dried pasta, add the kale 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time). Drain in a colander and reserve a cupful of the cooking water.
While the pasta is cooking, melt a mix of the butter and sunflower oil in a shallow skillet or frying pan and add the mushrooms. Fry them over a medium-high heat for a few minutes. When they release their moisture, add the garlic and sage, and season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Continue cooking until the juices have evaporated and the mushrooms are cooked through and golden brown, taking care not to allow the garlic to catch and burn. Then remove from the heat and keep warm until ready to serve.
Put the mascarpone in the empty pasta saucepan along with around 100ml of the pasta cooking water and warm over a gentle heat. Once the mascarpone has melted, stir in the grated parmesan. Loosen the mixture with a few more splashes of the cooking water as needed to turn it into a silky sauce that is the consistency of single cream. Then season with plenty of black pepper and a little sea salt. Return the tagliatelle and kale to the pan and toss with the sauce until coated.
To serve, divide the creamy kale and pasta between two plates and then tumble over the mushrooms. Grate over some extra parmesan and add a few more cracks of black pepper too if you wish. This is lovely with a simple rocket salad on the side. And perhaps a glass of crisp, white wine.
We are always extra careful when foraging for mushrooms. We never eat anything that we can’t identify for certain and, if unsure, we consult the advice of our guide books. We particularly like the River Cottage Mushroom handbook, by John Wright, who is knowledgeable, full of good humour, and pens his words in a way that is easy to understand. Also useful is Roger Phillips’ Mushroom book, which is rather like a textbook and covers a comprehensive variety of funghi.