Picking mushrooms the safest way

Don’t risk it: Death cap mushrooms which are found in the ACT region. Photo: Jay Cronan
Nanjing Night Net

There are some foods that really speak of the changing seasons – soon as you see them, bam, a recipe pops straight into mind. Like in early spring, a box of asparagus has you thinking of the warming weather, of new growth and longer days. This time of year, a box filled with wild mushrooms plus a bag of freshly picked chestnuts has me thinking of frosty mornings, achingly clear cold days and late autumn food.

The mushrooms come from Tumbarumba and came with freshly dug onions, garlic, fennel seeds and oregano. Autumn in a box. The couple who supply this have a Scandinavian connection so knew a lot about foraging, saunas and pickling before it all became trendy. Every year they scour the pine plantations for saffron milk caps, aka the pine mushroom. Risky stuff: we have been told repeatedly not to pick wild mushrooms unless you have something like a PhD in microflora. Why? Because every year there are poisonings from death caps, so just buy packaged dried mushrooms if in doubt.

There are many great things that came out of Europe: our wine industry, clogs and Eurovision to name just a few. However we also got things we didn’t count on, such as Portuguese food, soccer and these death cap mushrooms. They grow around European oaks and can look similar to some edible mushrooms but they are nothing like pine mushrooms which, as their names suggests, grow around pine trees. Anyway, I trust my Nordic friends fully and welcome their autumnal gifts along with a half kilo of fresh killed venison. They directed me to make a meat loaf or a pie out of all this, which is exactly what I did, with an Italian twist.

The pasticcio pre-dates the pie by a few hundred years. A very thin, buttery, pasta-like pastry is filled with all sorts of meats and vegetables, baked and served with a bitter greens salad.Venison, wild mushroom and chestnut pasticcio pie

70g unsalted butter plus 50g butter (for bechamel)

12 roasted chestnuts, peeled

2 small onions, diced

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 tbsp fennel seeds

1½ cup marsala

100g prosciutto fat, diced (lardo or even pork fat works too)

2 large chicken livers, chopped to a puree

3 tbsp tomato extract or paste

olive oil

500g venison shoulder, minced

300g pork belly, minced

100g dried pine mushrooms (or 20g dried porcini mushroom) soaked in a little hot water to soften

½ bunch parsley, leaves chopped

4 sprigs oregano, chopped

⅓ cup plain flour

1 cup milk

chicken or veal stock, as needed

3 eggs plus 1 yolk

200g finely sliced prosciutto

pasticcio pastry (see recipe above)

salt and pepper

Chop the chestnuts and saute in a little butter. Put them aside. Remove the mushrooms from the soaking liquid, saving the liquid for later, and saute in more butter on a low heat.

Remove the mushrooms and reserve with the chestnuts.

Add more butter to the pan and saute the onions and garlic until soft. Add fennel seeds and cook for another minute. Increase the heat and add the wine plus the soaking liquid for the mushrooms. Cook this down to a thick sauce, about ¼ of a cup. Stir in chicken livers, tomato paste and prosciutto fat, mix them together. remove and reserve. Clean the pan or, if you are like me, just keep using them until you have dirty pots and pans piled up.

Get the pan hot and add oil to just coat the bottom. Quickly sear the venison and pork in small batches. Add this to the onion mixture along with the herbs. Combine the two mixtures and season.

Make the bechamel. Heat the butter and cook until it stops sizzling. Add flour and mix with a wooden spoon to remove lumps. Cook for a few minutes until it turns a sandy colour. Add milk and whisk until smooth. Cook over a low heat for 20 minutes adding stock if it looks stodgy – it should be quite thick and creamy. Mix this alongside the eggs and egg yolk into the pie filling.

Roll two balls of the pastry out into thin discs just slightly larger than the 22cm spring form pan you have ready, buttered and lined. Roll the other ball into a 4cm wide strip that will go around the circumference on the pan.

Lay one disc on the bottom, press the strip of pastry around the edge of the pan so that it just folds over the top, sealing the edges and joins. Lay half the prosciutto across the bottom in one layer, cover with the filling, lay the rest of the prosciutto on top.

Cover with other round of pastry, fold and pinch the edges and poke a few air holes in the top. Whisk the egg yolk and brush all over the top.

Bake at 180C for an hour or until it is golden brown and tests at 65C internally. Serve with a green salad.Pasticcio pastry

3 cups strong flour (Petra 3 or high protein)

100g butter, melted

2 tbsp vodka or other white spirit

8 drops of lemon juice, no more, no less

2 egg yolks (extra large or 3 small)

1 tsp salt

It’s best to do this by hand. Make a pile of flour and scoop out the centre, mix everything else in a bowl and pour it into the flour. Take a fork and mix it all gradually into the flour, working in just enough to make a dough ball.

Knead this for 15 minutes until it is smooth and elastic. You can use a mixer but be careful not to add too much flour. Divide into three equal balls, chill for a few hours. Now it’s ready to use.

>> Bryan Martin is winemaker at Ravensworth and Clonakilla.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.