Classic Cèpes

What better way to start the mushroom season than serving Classic Cèpes? The recipe is very simple and the result is about cèpes and cèpes alone. The stems a bit firm, the caps moist, the flavours intense and the taste rich and earthy, with a touch of freshness from the parsley. It’s a classic in Germany (Steinpilze auf klassische Art), France (similar to Cèpes a la Bordelaise), Italy and many other countries. 

Wine Pairing

If you want to enjoy the cèpes with a glass of white wine, then we suggest drinking one that is fresh, fruity, round and balanced, for instance of a glass of Bodegas Mocén Selección Especial made from verdejo grapes. A glass of rosé with similar flavours is also a good idea. The idea is to support the cèpes by adding fruitiness and freshness to the dish.

When you decide to drink a glass of red wine, then we suggest a full-bodied red wine with gently fruit and present tannins. 

What You Need

  • 200 gram Cèpes
  • Butter
  • One small Shallot
  • Parsley
  • Black Pepper

What You Do

Clean the mushrooms and slice lengthwise. Finely chop the shallot and the parsley. Add butter to a relatively hot heavy iron skillet. Reduce the heat and fry the cèpes for a few minutes. Add the shallot. Cook on medium heat for 2 minutes. Add chopped parsley, add more butter, black pepper and stir. Serve on a warm plate.

Warm Tapenade

On one of the last, warm, long evenings of this summer we wanted to enjoy something with lots of flavours and depth, but we didn’t want to spend too much time in the kitchen. Then we remembered a tapenade like mixture that worked nicely with monkfish. Why not combine it with excellent beef? The result was what we hoped for: lots of flavours and we only needed 15 minutes to prepare it.

Wine Pairing

Enjoy with a glass of full-bodied red wine, for instance Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec. The tannins of such a wine will combine very well with the depth and richness of the tapenade and the beef.

We enjoyed a glass of Les Terrasses Occitanes Fitou produced by Mont Tauch from the Languedoc region in France, made with Grenache, Carignan and Syrah grapes. A not too complex, full bodied dry wine with aromas of red fruit and a lasting taste.

What You Need

  • 150 grams of Excellent Beef (Sirloin, Bavette)
  • For the Tapenade:
    • Shallot
    • Garlic
    • Black Olives
    • Capers
    • Thyme
    • Rosemary (optional)
    • Anchovies
    • Olive Oil

What You Do

Let the beef rest on a plate until it reaches room temperature. This could take an hour. Chop the shallot and the garlic, halve the black olives and remove the thyme leaves from the stalk. If using fresh rosemary, make sure to chop the leaves. Dry the capers with kitchen paper. Mash the anchovies with a fork until you have a paste-like substance. Warm a pan, add some olive oil and glaze the onions. After a few minutes add the garlic. Add the olives, the thyme, the capers and the anchovies. The result should be a rather chunky, rich tapenade.
Add olive oil to a hot skillet and quickly fry the beef. Leave to rest for a few minutes before serving with the warm tapenade. Add some black pepper.

PS

Not using anchovies is not an option. They bring umami and saltiness to the tapenade. One fillet is enough to have the right result.

Beef with Warm Tapenade ©cadwu
Beef with Warm Tapenade ©cadwu

Zucchini with Oregano and Parmesan Cheese

Recently a friend who lives in Liguria, north-western Italy, gave us a Trombetta d’Albenga. This is a zucchini, shaped like an antique trumpet. What makes it interesting is related to its shape: the seeds of this kind of zucchini are in the bell of the trumpet only, meaning that most of the zucchini is free of seeds. Which makes it ideal for a salad or for frying, especially when it’s young. Older trombettas tend to be yellowish and firmer; more pumpkin-like.

It’s wonderful to prepare this starter with Trombetta d’Albenga, however they are hard to find outside of Liguria, so we prepared this dish both with a trombetta and with a young normal zucchini. The trombetta is firmer and its taste creamier, nevertheless in both cases it’s a healthy, very tasty, vegetarian starter, one to share and enjoy with friends. It’s crunchy, salty, full of flavours, soft and slightly bitter.

Wine Pairing

The most popular grape in Liguria is Vermentino, which is used to produce white wines. Don’t worry if you can’t find a wine made with vermentino. In general a glass of rosé or white wine will be nice with the zucchini, provided the wine is fresh, with a touch of acidity and notes of citrus or green apples.

What You Need

  • One Trombetta or Young Zucchini
  • Breadcrumbs or Panko
  • Dried Oregano
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Olive Oil

What You Do

Wash and slice the vegetable. If using a zucchini, drizzle with salt and mix. Let the mixture rest for two hours, allowing for the zucchini to lose water and become firm. Best way to do this, is by putting the zucchini in a sieve and let it rest above a bowl. Wash the zucchini.
If the dried oregano is not very fine, then use a kitchen knife to make the dried leaves smaller. Mix breadcrumbs or panko with a generous amount of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and Oregano. Heat a non-stick pan with olive oil. Coat the slices of zucchini with the mixture and fry quickly until golden. When ready, leave for a minute or two and serve the trombetta warm.

Château de Bellet

The Riviera is a much-loved coast, with wonderful cities such as Genoa and Nice, and touristic hot spots such as Saint Tropez and Portofino. Blue seas, mild climate, culture (the film festival of Cannes), art (Léger, Picasso, Cocteau, Miró, Niki de Saint Phalle) and everything else you can dream of. Go to the beach, tour the hilly mountains and of course, visit the beautiful gardens and enjoy local food and wine. Taste Taggiasca olives, pesto, socca, tourte de blettes, merda de can, spumante.

The French part of the region is well known for its flavourful rosé wines. Well known wines such as Domaine Ott, wines from Cassis and Bandol, or more affordable wines from the Var region. In general the rosé wines are pale, fresh, fruity and delicate. Ideal for lunch, accompanying Fruits de Mer or pissaladière. Amongst the most popular grapes in the Provence are grenache, cinsault, syrah, mourvèdre and tibouren.

Bellet

Not far from the city of Nice you’ll find a relatively small and isolated wine area, named after the village of Saint Roman de Bellet. We had the pleasure of visiting Château de Bellet, a winery that was founded in the 18th century. We walked around the vineyard and enjoyed the view, from snowy mountains to the Mediterranean. The vineyard close to the tasting room (an old chapel) showcases special grapes such as Rolle (also known as Vermentino), Braquet and Folle Noire. Did we mention all wines are organic?

We especially enjoyed the red wine from Château de Bellet. The wine is dark, ruby red, with aromas of berries and cherries. Elegant, fresh, balanced and with soft tannins.
Some wines from the Provence suggest a flavour called garrigue. The term refers to a shrubby vegetation with plants such as thyme, lavender, rosemary, heather and kermes oak, a vegetation that is very common in the Mediterranean hills and mountains.
Next time you sip a glass of Côtes de Provence, remember to think of garrigue and see if you recognise it!

Food Pairing

We combined our glass of Château de Bellet with lamb chops (thyme, garlic) and fried (waxy) potatoes.

What You Need

  • Lamb Chops
  • Thyme
  • Garlic
  • Olive Oil
  • Potato (we used Agata)
  • Olive Oil
  • Butter
  • Black Pepper

What You Do

Use a fork to pinch small holes in the potato. Transfer to the microwave and set to 4 minutes on full power, depending on the size and shape of the potatoes. Let cool.
Fry the chops for a few minutes in olive oil until beatifully golden-brown. Reduce heat, wrap the chops in aluminium foil and add thyme and roughly chopped garlic to the pan.
In parallel slice the potato lengthwise in 4 and fry the potatoes in olive oil and butter until the potato is crispy and golden. Serve with freshly grounded black pepper.

Green Gnocchi

We love eating Gnocchi, preferably as a starter with some olive oil and Parmesan cheese. Tasty and rich. Perhaps sometimes a bit too rich and too filling, especially the ones you can buy at your local shop or supermarket. Therefore it’s best is to make your own gnocchi, which is not too difficult, just time consuming.

We were pleasantly surprised when we found Green Gnocchi in Nice (France), made with Swiss Chard. The chopped leaves help improve the structure of the Gnocchi and add complexity and freshness to the dish. Yummy!

So all is good? Well, the name is a bit odd, to say the least. This Niçoise speciality is called Merda de Can, which translates into something from a dog – not very pleasant and certainly not something you want to eat. Very odd.

The name shouldn’t stop you from enjoying it. Merda de Can with Sage Butter is truly delicious.

Wine Pairing

We enjoyed our Merda de Can with a glass of Saint Roman Sable de Camargue Rosé. In general you’re looking for a well-balanced, fresh wine. Given the butter and sage sauce you could serve a Chardonnay or perhaps an Italian white wine such as Gavi di Gavi or Soave

What You Need for 8 starters

  • For the Merda de Can 
    • 600 Grams of Starchy Potatoes
    • 300 Grams of Swiss Chard, Spinach or Water Spinach (cleaned and ready to use)
    • Olive Oil
    • Nutmeg
    • 1 Egg
    • All Purpose Flour
  • For the Sauce
    • Butter
    • Sage
  • Parmesan Cheese or (preferred) Vacherin de Fribourgeois)

What You Do

Best is to follow the instructions by a Niçoise chef. 
Or prepare gnocchi as you would normally. Quickly fry the leaves in olive oil, remove from the pan, chop finely and drain. Add to the potato mixture, add the beaten egg, add freshly grated nutmeg and combine. Now start adding flour until you have the right consistency. You’re looking for a flexible, non-sticky dough. Flour your hands and start making short, small, thin, sausage like pasta. (Perhaps this is the moment to think about a small dog. Or perhaps not.) Don’t worry about the shape, it’s okay if they are not very similar. Devein the sage leaves. Warm butter in a pan and add the sage. In parallel heat a generous amount of water. Add the pasta to the boiling water and wait until the pasta surfaces. Remove from the water, add the pasta to the pan with sage butter, coat the pasta and freshly grated Parmesan cheese and serve.

PS

The Merda de Can we enjoyed was bought at a local Niçoise shop and had a more elegant shape.

Green Gnocchi (Merda de Can) ©cadwu
Green Gnocchi (Merda de Can) ©cadwu

Pasta with Mushrooms

Most historical recipes are about meat, fish and poultry, using a range of herbs and spices. Vegetables were not considered to be a healthy (slimy and wet) or were seen as food for the poor. Afterall, the recipes were to be used by cooks and chefs for the upper class and the gentry. Eating meat, drinking wine and using spices also illustrated wealth.

Today’s food culture is very different: meat is seen by many as the most important aspect of a meal, we tend to eat far too much of it and we’re not willing to pay a decent price for it. Go to your local supermarket, visit your local snack restaurant and feel sorry for the animals. From happy pig in the mud to intensive farming where the animals are kept in gestation crates.
On the other hand, hurray, we see more and more vegetarian alternatives, with lentils, beans, vegetables etcetera inspired by, for instance, traditional vegetarian cuisine from India.

We were pleasantly surprised when Manon Henzen and Jeroen Savelkouls published their Historisch Kookboek Vega, discussing historical vegetarian cuisine. The book includes 14 recipes, for instance dishes like Surprise Honey Cake and Chick Pea Soup. Plus one for Pasta with Mushrooms. Sounds very much 21st century but is actually based on a Venetian recipe from the 14th century. It’s a nice combination of homemade pasta (a bit chewy perhaps), mushrooms and spices. We tweaked it a bit. The original recipe is included in the book which is available via the webshop for €12,50 (Dutch only). On the website you will also find a range of videos, helping you to cook historical vegetarian food.

Wine Pairing

You can be flexible in this case. We enjoyed a glass of Côtes de Provence rosé with our pasta, but a glass of not too complex, red or white wine will also be fine.

What You Need

  • Dough
    • 125 grams of All Purpose Flour
    • 2 Eggs
    • 50 grams of Parmesan Cheese
  • Spices
    • Black Pepper
    • 3 Cardamom Seed Pods
    • Cinnamon Powder
    • Laos Powder
    • Nutmeg
  • Shallot
  • 150 grams of Mixed Mushrooms
  • 4 Sage Leaves
  • Parsley
  • White Wine Vinegar
  • White Wine
  • Olive Oil

What You Do

Crush and combine the spices. Add 2 teaspoons of the mixture and the grated Parmesan cheese to the flour and mix. Whisk two eggs and add these to the mixture. A bit of kneading is required to make the dough. Set aside for an hour or so.
Knead the dough a bit more, flour your hands and make finger-long, thin pasta.
Chop the shallot, glaze in a large heavy iron pan, add the sliced mushrooms and fry these gently for a few minutes. Now add half of the deveined sage leaves and roughly chopped parsley plus some white wine. You could add a splash of white wine vinegar. Cook the pasta in a pan with boiling water for 10 minutes or until done. It behaves very similar to gnocchi. Five minutes before serving add the remaining sage and parsley. Drain the pasta, add to the pan and combine. Serve with some extra Parmesan cheese.

Pasta with Mushrooms ©cadwu
Pasta with Mushrooms ©cadwu

Quail à la Roden

A few excellent ingredients is sometimes all you need to cook a wonderful dish. In this case you need quail, shallot, olive oil, butter, sage and Marsala.
We love the delicate, pleasantly intense flavour of quails. They are great to combine with strong flavours like bay leaf, pancetta and prunes but in this case, we follow a recipe by Claudia Roden, as published in her excellent book The Food of Italy. We tweaked it a bit, so please buy Claudia Roden’s book when you want to make the original.
Marsala is a fortified wine from Sicily. Perhaps you know it as something sold in small bottles, especially for cooking purposes. Never buy this nasty product because it can’t be compared to real Marsala. Same story for the small ‘Madeira’ bottles.
Quails must be sufficiently fat and undamaged. We prefer the French label rouge quails. Not cheap, but a wealth of flavours. 

Wine Pairing

The dish comes with a gentle, intense and slightly sweet taste thanks to the sage, the marsala and the quail. You could go for a medium bodied red wine. We enjoyed a glass of Domaine Vico Corse Le Bois du Cerf Rosé 2021 with our quail. This is an exceptional rosé from Corsica. It is made from grenache and sciacarello grapes. It is medium bodied and fresh with aromas of red fruit. Its taste is complex, long and fruity.

What You Need

  • 2 Quails
  • 1 Shallot
  • Olive Oil
  • Butter
  • 4 Leaves of Sage
  • Dry or Medium Dry Marsala
  • Chicken Stock
  • Black Pepper

What You Do

Clean the inside of the quail with a bit of kitchen paper and remove anything that’s left. Check for remaining feathers and shafts. Gently fry the chopped shallot in butter and olive oil until soft. Remove the shallot from the pan, increase the temperature and fry the quails until golden-brown. Reduce the heat, add shallot and sage. Pour in marsala and stock. Cook the quails for 20 minutes until done, turning them over regularly. Transfer the quails to a warm oven (60˚ C or 140˚ F). Reduce the sauce, taste, add black pepper, perhaps some freshly chopped sage and diced cold butter to thicken the sauce. Serve the quail on top of the sauce.
Claudia Roden serves the quails with risotto. 

The Food of Italy

In 1990 Claudia Roden published The Food of Italy, a book based on her articles in the Sunday Times. She researched Italian cuisine for over a year, traveling throughout the country, visiting cities and villages, talking to people and enjoying their way of preparing food. 

If you open The Food of Italy, you will notice that the table of contents is very much a list of regions. Every chapter begins with an introduction that helps you understand the region. For instance, when she writes about Lombardy, she writes about themes like economy, the countryside (Lago Maggiore, Lago di Como), the cuisine, the renaissance, its main products (rice), meat (Lombardy is known for its pigs), cities (Milan being its main city) and of course its wine (sparkling wine from Franciacorta). After having read the introduction, you will have a much better understanding of the dishes from that region.

Traditional and Local

The book is about traditional local food. When she was once asked why she would write such a book when all the world is changing and cooking is becoming more global and becoming the same all over the world, she answered “What appeals and fascinates and touches the heart is that what distinguishes Italy, which recalls her past and is part of the prestigious heritage and traditions.” We couldn’t agree more!

We prepared a dish from Lombardy, a simple and very tasty combination of Quail, Shallot, Sage, Butter, Oil and (dry) Marsala. It is served with Risotto. In one of our next posts we will describe the dish in more detail.

The Food of Italy is available via your local bookshop or the usual channels for something like 20 euro or US dollar (paperback). A beautifully illustrated hardcover is also available. Other publications by Claudia Roden include books on Mediterranean Food (thus paving the way for chefs like Yotam Ottolenghi), on the joy of Outdoor Eating, on Picnics, Coffee and Spanish Food. 

PS

Marsala is a fortified wine from Sicily. Perhaps you know it as something sold in small bottles, especially for cooking purposes. Never buy this nasty product. It has nothing to do with Marsala. Same story for the small ‘Madeira’ bottles. It’s a bit of a challenge but try to buy dry Marsala for this dish and next time you’re making Tiramisu, use sweet Marsala.

Mushroom Caponata

There must be hundreds of recipes for Caponata. The dish originates from Sicily and should contain (at least, we think so) eggplant (aubergine), celery and vinegar. Sugar is often added to enhance the sweetness and intensity. Nowadays it’s often a combination with tomatoes, shallot, capers, olives and perhaps raisins, pine nuts, oregano and basil.
The flavour of caponata should be slightly bitter (the eggplant) with a touch of sweetness (sugar, onion), acidity and saltiness (celery). The texture should be moist, but not sauce-like.
We love to enhance the flavours by adding mushrooms. And since we’re not keen on using sugar, we make sure the onions bring sufficient sweetness.

Enjoy your caponata as an appetizer, for instance with some crusted bread or bruschetta. A nice glass of white wine or rosé will be perfect with it. It’s also great as a side dish, with fish or even merguez.

Whatever the combination, caponata must be made one day ahead.

What You Need

  • 1 Aubergine
  • 200 grams of Mushrooms (preferably a mix with Shiitake)
  • 1 Red Onion
  • 1 Garlic Clove
  • 1 cm Red Chilli Pepper
  • Parsley
  • Celery
  • 2 tablespoons of White Wine Vinegar
  • Olive Oil
  • Fine Salt

What You Do

Wash the eggplant and slice. We slice the eggplant lengthwise in 8 and then we slice these strips. Salt them generously, transfer to a sieve and allow to drain for one or two hours. The more liquid they lose, the better! Rinse the eggplant with cold water and dry them with a kitchen cloth. Fry the aubergine in a heavy iron skillet until nicely golden brown. Set aside. Slice the red onion, clean and chop the mushrooms. Chop the garlic and the chilli pepper finely. Add some olive oil to the pan and fry the onion. Remove and set aside. Now fry the mushrooms. After 5 minutes or so add the garlic and the chilli pepper. After a few minutes add the mushrooms and the eggplant to the pan. Add chopped parsley and celery. Mix well. Add two spoons of white wine vinegar and leave on low heat for 10 minutes. Add black pepper to taste. Transfer to a plate and let cool. Keep in the refrigerator for the next day.

The Quiet Hunt

Antonio Carluccio’s The Complete Mushroom book is more than a cookbook. The first part of the book discusses foraging and collecting mushrooms, with clear descriptions of each mushroom and poisonous look-alikes. It’s a pleasure to read, but we’re not brave enough to start our own quiet hunt.

Fortunately, mushrooms are becoming more popular and greengrocers and supermarkets have started selling chestnut mushrooms, button mushrooms and shiitake. Asian supermarkets in most cases sell (king) oyster mushrooms, shiitake, enoki and shimeji.
Don’t be tempted to buy dried mushrooms: expensive, no aroma, nasty taste and not even close to a fresh mushroom.

Recipes

The second part of the book includes some 150 mushroom recipes, ranging from classic Italian dishes to culinary treats. Carluccio’s recipes are well written and informative. You’ll get the feeling that he lets you in on some of his secrets. And given he started foraging mushrooms as a young child, there are a lot of secrets to share!

One of our favourites is a salad made with maitake, fresh scallops, crab and shrimps. It’s an amazing result, with lots of pleasant flavours, also thanks to the cilantro, dill and parsley. Part of the fun is that the scallops are not seared but prepared like ceviche. Maitake is also available as a cultivated mushroom.

Caponata

More favourites? Of course! How about Mushroom Caponata or Tagliolini with black truffle? The caponata is a combination of mushrooms, egg plant and various herbs, so if you can buy button mushrooms and for instance shiitake, you’re ready to go.

Our all-time favourite from this book is the combination of fresh oysters with white truffle (bianchetti). A starter we prepare once or twice a year, depending on the availability of the truffle. Always a pleasure…

The Mushroom Book – the Quiet Hunt was published in 2001. It’s available (in most cases second hand) via channels such as Amazon and e-Bay for prices between 25 and 50 euro.

One of the very best books on mushrooms, written by a true expert.