When autumn arrives and the crisp air is filled with the scent of fallen leaves and the smoke of bonfires, I start craving something warm, earthy, and fragrant. I wish I could tell you that I went out into the woods, just at dawn, clad in wool and toting a rustic basket, to forage for wild mushrooms to fulfill such a craving. The imagery is perfect. The reality, however, is that I wouldn't know where to begin in picking the edible from the poisonous. So, for now, I'll be satiated with intensely flavored dried mushrooms, a few of the old button variety, and some very good wild rices. I hope you will be too.
Wild Rice with Mushrooms and Fennel
(adapted from 'Wild Rice With Fennel and Porcini' originally published in the February 1995 issue of Gourmet magazine)
1/2 oz. (14 g.) dried Porcini mushrooms
3/4 Cup boiling water
2 Tb. sherry
1 Cup wild rice blend
2 Cups water
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 Tb. butter
2 small (or 1 large) fennel bulbs, chopped (1 cup), a few fronds reserved for serving
1/2 Cup shallots, finely chopped
8 oz. white button mushrooms, sliced
Pinch of salt
3 Tb. sherry
1/2 Cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
Grated Parmesan cheese for serving (optional)
In a heat-proof bowl, pour boiling water over dried Porcinis. Add in 2 Tb. sherry, and let steep 20-30 minutes, or until mushrooms have softened. Remove mushrooms (reserving the soaking liquid), chop coarsely and set aside. In a small saucepan, simmer the reserved soaking liquid until reduced to 1/3 cup. Carefully strain liquid to remove any sediment.
Combine the strained mushroom soaking liquid, wild rice blend, 2 cups of water, and 1/2 tsp. salt in a medium pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer about 45 minutes, or until rice is cooked through (if there is additional liquid left after rice is fully cooked, drain it away).
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the butter over medium-high heat. Add the shallots, fennel, Porcinis, and button mushrooms. Season with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Saute until fennel is soft and mushrooms are golden - about 10 minutes. Add the remaining 3 Tb. sherry and stir, scraping up any browned bits. Cook another minute or so, until all the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat, add the cooked rice and chopped parsley, and mix to combine. Serve garnished with reserved chopped fennel fronds and a grating of Parmesan cheese, if desired.
Serves 4 as a side, 2 as a meal The sherry used in this recipe (I used an Amontillado sherry) does wonders for developing the flavor of the already hearty Porcini and compliments the fennel nicely too. The aroma is heavenly. However, if you prefer not to use sherry, I'd suggest replacing it with tamari or soy sauce. Or, omitting it altogether and using a good stock instead of water to cook the rice.