JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Spaghetti con funghi

Sometimes the simplest really is the best. This was Lettice's order of spaghetti con funghi at the little cafe in Valvona and Crolla in Edinburgh in August. Pasta, good olive oil, mushrooms quickly fried in oil, parsley. What more could you want?

Now, of course, is THE mushroom moment - except that it isn't. Normally at this time of year our garden is full of wild mushrooms to pick and eat (especially the puffballs, which appear the size of footballs overnight, and which you can slice thick and fry in oil and eat like a vegetarian sirloin steak). But this year, so far, not a one, and I've looked in all the places we normally find funghi.

My mother-in-law had a novel approach to identifying fungus when she lived here: she had a little pamphlet called Poisonous Mushrooms of Great Britain. If it wasn't in the book, she ate it.

I always thought I'd like to adopt the same cavalier attitude until our friend Richard Fortey came to inspect our garden one warm October. He's a naturalist with many interests, and his advanced knowledge of fungi makes him one of the Oxfordshire county mushroom specialists - for example, the police might turn to him in a case of serious suspected mushroom poisoning. He found something like 17 different types of small fungi on the croquet lawn alone: he laid them out on a plate, some of them so similar it was hard to tell them apart. Two were looked to my untrained eyes virtually identical - well, one was edible, the other highly poisonous. Since then, I've stuck to the ones I know are fine, which we eat every year.

It's pouring with rain here now, for the first time in weeks. Fingers crossed for a couple of warm days once it stops ... and then I'll be out looking for field mushrooms and puffballs - but not on the croquet lawn!


Anonymous said...

Surprised that it's a poor mushroom year given all the rain we've had. Met several people out on the weekend mushrooming. It's something I've always wanted to do but I'll wait until I'm accompanied by someone I trust!

Joanna said...

We've had no rain at all for over a month, so I think that's the explanation. Yes, I think you do need to know what you're doing, although a field mushroom is pretty easy to identify from a book. And probably a puffball, too.

There are courses you can go on, and I keep meaning to do one - a local one, rather than an expensive one by Antonio Carlucci or Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

Truffle said...

This looks so beautiful! I have never looked for my own but it sounds so wonderful that I wish I had the necessary knowledge!

KJ said...

I love mushrooms. There are so m any great ways to eat them. Your pasta dish looks delicious.

But I would never dare to pick my own. It's from the shop or nothing.

Cottage Smallholder said...

This is a fascinating post Joanna. My mum gave me a great mushroom book (identifying) last Christmas but your expert sounds like a better bet. How lovely having puff in your own garden.

Anonymous said...

does anyone know of a service where you can get mushrooms checked? we have lots in our garden and i worry about our children.

Joanna said...

Anon, I don't usually publish anonymous comments, but this is an important topic. The police must know who the local poisonous mushroom expert is, so I would go there, or perhaps to your local district or county council. My experience is that mushroom experts are very keen to spread their knowledge.

But also, my experience is that children manage, even when their garden is full of poisonous things. Our children were brought up here, where there are so many poisonous plants that the garden must have been planted by child-haters, not to mention the wild funghi. And so I told the children never to eat anything in the garden without first consulting an adult. They all always did that, because they knew it was serious. And they all survived childhood unscathed by poisonous plants.

Good luck with it