Those mornings in the countryside, when the dew falls so thickly as to show the tracks of everything that passes, and the leaves lie in great piles ready to scuff and throw, are the mornings to pack a picnic and head out mushrooming.
It's easy to spot the bright white caps of field mushrooms (Agaricus campestris) in paddocks and parks. Being easy to identify (some kinds aren't), these mushrooms are the safest option for the forager. As with commercial button mushrooms, field mushrooms have thick, fleshy white caps, and gills that change from pale pink to dark brown as the fungi matures.
In some places you will also find horse mushrooms, especially where there has been cow or sheep manure. These giant white caps have the same gill structure and colour as field mushrooms but can be the size of dinner plates.
There is another field mushroom we get down in Wanaka (known as a yellow stainer) that looks like a horse mushroom but will give most people a nasty tummy upset. Down south we also get a lot of birch and larch boletus mushrooms - these grow under birch and larch trees and can be identified by their spongy, rather than gilled, caps. I always slice and dry them, as this concentrates the umami. Adding a handful into a soup, sauce or stew gives it a rich depth of flavour you won't get from fresh mushrooms.
With any wild mushroom, the trick is to cook them as quickly as you can before the worms get them. You will see the little tunnels these worms make when you pick the mushrooms. If you don't cut them out or cook them right away, they will take over. They are harmless but just the idea of eating little maggots is unappealing. Some people soak the mushrooms in salted water, which brings them to the surface but makes the mushroom soggy so it won't brown when you fry it. I tend to cut out the really maggotty parts and not worry if there are a couple here and there - it's just a bit of extra protein, after all.
My favourite way to cook mushrooms is to slice them and fry them with a good knob of butter. Once they are nearly browned I throw in a little crushed garlic and sizzle them for another minute or two so the garlic softens without browning. I'll finish by seasoning with salt and pepper and drizzle with lemon juice.
If you want you can add some good-quality chicken or vegetable stock to this to make a soup, or a little stock and cornflour to make a sauce for steak or chicken.
Ready in 30 mins
8 medium slices beef, pork or veal schnitzel
8 very thin slices ham or prosciutto (cut in half if large)
8 sage leaves
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
3 Tbsp butter
200g button mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
Finely grated zest of ½ lemon
½ cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1-2 Tbsp cream (optional)
Top each piece of schnitzel with ham or prosciutto and a sage leaf. Roll up tightly into a cylinder shape and secure with string or a toothpick. Chill until ready to cook. Season rolls with salt and pepper. Heat 2 Tbsp of the butter in a pan and when it starts to turn a nut brown, add meat rolls and cook over high heat until lightly browned. Take out of the pan and put to one side. Add the other tablespoon of butter to the pan and when it bubbles add the sliced mushrooms. Stir over medium heat for 3-4 minutes until mushrooms are just starting to brown. Add garlic and lemon zest and allow to sizzle for about 30 seconds. Add the wine and stock and stir to lift pan brownings. Add the meat rolls back into the pan and simmer gently for 10 minutes. If desired, add a splash of cream. Serve with fettuccine and lightly cooked broccoli.
Annabel says: The name of this dish means "jump into the mouth", and that is exactly what happens. It's a real 1970s dish and kind of rich and decadent, but irresistible nonetheless.
Beef and Mushroom Stir-Fry
Ready in 30 mins
350g beef stir-fry
1 Tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
½ tsp sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp neutral oil
300g mixed fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 spring onions, finely chopped, green ends reserved for garnish
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbsp cornflour
2 cups chicken stock or water
3 Tbsp oyster sauce
20g dried sliced shitake mushrooms (optional)
3 medium heads bok choy, coarsely chopped
Salt and ground black pepper
180g dried udon noodles, cooked according to packet instructions, drained
¼ cup chopped coriander leaves
2 Tbsp black sesame seeds
Place beef stir-fry in a bowl and mix through ginger, sugar and sesame oil. Leave to stand while you prepare other ingredients. In a large wok or heavy pot heat 1 Tbsp neutral oil and fry fresh mushrooms, spring onion whites and garlic over medium heat until mushrooms are softened (5-6 minutes). Stir cornflour into a little of the chicken stock or water, then add to pan with the remaining chicken stock or water and the oyster sauce. Stir to combine then bring to a simmer. Mix in dried mushrooms, if using, and bok choy, cover and cook until bok choy has turned bright green and wilted (about 3 minutes). While vegetables cook, heat the remaining 1 Tbsp neutral oil in a heavy-based frypan. Season beef stir-fry with salt and pepper and stir-fry in two batches over high heat until just browned (about 1 minute per batch). Add to vegetables with noodles and toss to combine. Serve at once, garnished with reserved spring onion greens, coriander leaves and black sesame seeds.
Annabel says: Mushrooms are always a great addition to a stir-fry and the oyster sauce in this recipe really brings out their flavour. Using dried shitake mushrooms as well gives an even more flavoursome umami result.
Chicken and Mushroom Filo Pie
Ready in 1 hour
3 Tbsp butter
2 large leeks, white part and half the green sliced finger-width
600g mushrooms, halved or quartered
800g-1kg boneless chicken thighs, cut into halves or thirds
2 cups chicken stock
Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
40g dried sliced mushrooms or 2 tsp mushroom or porcini powder or 2 tsp miso paste
3 Tbsp cornflour
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup chopped parsley leaves
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
10-12 sheets filo pastry
60g butter, melted
Melt butter in large pot or ovenproof frypan and cook leeks and mushrooms over a gentle heat until softened and starting to turn golden (10 minutes). Add chicken, stock, lemon zest and dried mushrooms, porcini powder or miso and simmer until chicken is cooked (about 10 minutes). Combine cornflour and lemon juice, then stir into chicken mixture with parsley, salt and pepper. The filling can be cooked in advance up to this stage, chilled for up to two days until needed and reheated before topping with pastry. Preheat oven to 180C fanbake. Brush the top sheet of filo with butter and draw up to form a loose bundle. Place on top of hot filling in a pie dish or the ovenproof frying pan. Repeat with remaining filo. Bake until golden (about 15 minutes).
Annabel says: Brushing sheets of filo with butter and then scrunching them tightly into "flowers" is an easy way to create a crispy topping for this delicious chicken pie.