There’s something special about truffles and wild mushrooms. The fact that they have still defied modern cultivation methods and only grow wild in woodlands and meadows adds to their mystery. Wild mushroom varieties have been gathered since 3500bc. The Greeks exported them to the Romans who considered them food for gods and the Egyptians would only serve them to the pharaohs as they were judged to be far too good for ordinary mortals like you and me.
Mushroom picking is a national pastime here in Spain, and thousands of passionate devotees spend hours in the fields and meadows searching for them. Collectively they are known as “setas” or “hongos”, and dozens of regional varieties exist. Although autumn is traditionally considered the best season for wild mushrooms, Spain’s varied microclimate helps to offer a steady supply all year round.
The provinces of Castilla y León, Huesca, Galicia, the Basque country, Catalonia and Valencia are among the most prolific mushroom producing regions, but all across Spain, in every local market you will find a selection of locally grown specialities to look out for including “rossinyol”, “oreja de judas”, “pie azul”, “cep”, “trompetas negras”, “ous de reig”, “rovellon” and “camagroc”.
Obviously it is important to clean wild mushrooms well, but they should not be soaked in water. This only results in a drastic loss of flavour and texture. Clean your fungi with a damp cloth then trim the stalk with a sharp knife and use a pastry brush to remove all the grit and dirt from the most inaccessible parts. Discard any that are mushy and discoloured and store them in a cool, dry place.
Mushrooms should not be picked and eaten unless you are thoroughly familiar with them as there are obviously many poisonous varieties. Buy them safely from the local markets and don’t take any risks!
Here in Majorca, a local variety called “Esclatasangs” is extremely popular and they are in season right now. Translated literally as blood mushrooms, “Esclatasangs” are large, big flavoured, meaty fungi that are just perfect for grilling or roasting. You can use any large field mushrooms but the best way to cook them is to simply sprinkle them with a little sea salt, a good drizzle of olive oil, add a couple of crushed garlic cloves and loads of freshly chopped parsley before placing them under a hot grill for about 5-6 minutes. You’ll need some crusty bread to soak up all those delicious cooking juices and be warned, the heavenly aroma can be very addictive.
The little village of Mancor de la Vall, nestled in the foothills of the Serra de Tramuntana even hosts a mushroom fair every year.
La Fira de l’Esclatasang, takes place on November 23, through to the 24, and it’s definitely worth a visit to take in some traditional dancing and music, including the stirring tones of the native Majorcan bagpipe, the xeremia, and sample the truly wild, magnificent taste of the forest.
Cream of mushroom, cheese & bacon soup with fresh thyme
· 100g butter
· 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
· 150g smoked bacon, finely chopped
· 1 large potato, peeled & diced
· 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
· 600g mushrooms, cleaned & chopped
· 3 garlic cloves, peeled & crushed
· 900ml chicken stock
· 150g cheddar cheese, grated
· 200ml milk
· 130ml cream
· 1tbsp truffle oil (optional)
· Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the chopped onion, garlic and thyme. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until softened but not coloured. Add the chopped mushrooms, bacon and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the potato, chicken stock and milk, and then bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
Add the cheese and cream then blend to a smooth puree.
Season to taste; pass through a fine sieve and then ladle into soup bowls. Scatter with extra thyme leaves and a drizzle of truffle oil or olive oil. Serve immediately.
Rosemary roasted esclatasangs with garlic-anchovy butter
· 500g Esclata-sangs or mixed flat mushrooms, cleaned & halved
· 1 tbsp finely chopped rosemary leaves
· 1 small red chili, deseeded & finely chopped
· 3 tbsp olive oil
· 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
For the garlic-anchovy butter
· 250g unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
· 4 salted anchovies fillets, drained of oil and chopped
· 2 garlic cloves, crushed
· 2 tbsp chopped Parsley
· The grated zest of 1 lemon
· Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
For the garlic-anchovy butter, place the butter into a bowl and add the lemon zest, chopped anchovies, garlic and chopped Parsley.
Season with sea salt and black pepper then mix well to combine all the ingredients. Place the butter mixture onto a sheet of cling film or baking parchment laid out on a clean work surface, and roll into a cylinder or log.Place the prepared butter in the fridge and leave to chill until firm.
Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Arrange the mushrooms in a roasting tray in a single layer. Add 4 or 5 slices of anchovy butter, rosemary, chili, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until tender. Scatter with a little chopped parsley, season and serve immediately.