The Currabinny cooks: Meals to bring you on a mushroom renaissance

I must be honest here — I do not usually care much for mushrooms. 

I find them overpowering when used in most dishes and unless I am in charge of cooking them myself, I probably won’t eat them. The texture to me can be rubbery, even slimy on occasions.

The most common, the little white button mushrooms, I cannot abide under any circumstances. Mushroom soup? Never!

With all that off my chest, I will say, I am absolutely fascinated by them. I yearn to love them. They grow in darkness, a fungus feeding off decay, broken wet wood, crumbling into the forest floor, giving life to strange and wonderful shapes and textures. It is an ingredient that couldn’t be any more indigenous to Currabinny, which is covered in a damp and temperate woods.

I am therefore on a journey with mushrooms and when I do like them, I like them very much, to the point where I forget they are mushrooms altogether. The recipes we have included here hopefully celebrate the variety of mushrooms now available here. In farmers’ markets, greengrocers and even supermarkets, the types of mushrooms we have are astounding when you think that for so long, button mushrooms were all you could find.

As with so many of our great native ingredients, mushrooms are going through a wonderful renaissance and I would encourage all my fellow mushroom avoiders to take a tentative step into the endless possibilities they offer in terms of textures and flavours. No other ingredient grows so abundantly, in so many varieties, all year round.

Barley Salad with Herbs and Wild Mushrooms

Pictures: Bríd O’Donovan

Pearl barley is the most common form of barley we eat, the hulls being removed for easier digestion and reduced cooking time. If you do happen to have hulled barley just cook it for longer.

Our memories of pearl barley seem to have them confined exclusively to thick vegetables soups or stews where the barley seemed to make them more substantial but also creamier and nuttier. Using them in a salad is a wonderful way of eating pearl barley and mushrooms which are naturally woody and nutty is the perfect pairing.

I think the farmers’ market might be the best bet when it comes to getting mushrooms like chanterelles, ceps and morels. For things like milkcaps and hedgehogs, heading out to a forest with a mushroom book is probably the only way unless you go somewhere really specialist.

200g pearl barley

2 shallots, sliced thinly

250g mixed wild mushrooms such as chantarelle, oysters, cep, milkcaps and hedgehogs

4 springs of fresh thyme

1 clove of garlic, crushed

100g butter

2 tbsp of chopped parsley

1 tbsp of chopped tarragon

1 tbsp of chives

50g of parmesan

To cook the pearl barley, place in boiling water in a medium pot with plenty of salt until tender. Should take 20 to 30 minutes. Drain, and leave aside to cool.

Prepare the wild mushrooms by brushing off any dirt and breaking larger pieces up with your fingers, or if you prefer, use a knife. In a large frying pan heat a little oil and the butter until melted. Add the garlic and shallot and cook until the shallot is softened and turning golden. 

At this point add the mixed mushrooms. Season the mushrooms well with salt and pepper and cook until everything is wonderfully fragrant, around 3- 5 minutes. Add the sprigs of thyme towards the end of cooking.

When the mushrooms are cooked transfer to a bowl, removing the thyme sprigs.

Spread the barley on a large platter and toss with the chopped herbs and lemon juice. arrange the mushrooms and shallot mixture on top and shave the parmesan over everything.

Creamy Mushroom Pasta

This pasta dish is the epitome of comfort food and the combinations of woody chestnut mushrooms, parsley, cream and parmesan is absolutely divine. We rarely give in to the snobbery of certain types of pasta having to go with certain types of sauces for anything other than traditional reasons. 

A good sauce will cling to tagliatelle as much as it will be captured inside the shell of a conchiglie. We are sure there are of course instances where one type of pasta simply must be with a certain sauce but are happy in our ignorance and we usually just use whatever pasta we have in my house. 

Having said all that, I will concede that this dish seems to work better with a long type of pasta like pappardelle which curls around both sauce and mushroom capturing everything in a neat nest on the plate.

Serves 4

4 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly

2 shallots, sliced thinly

600g of chestnut mushrooms, stalks removed, bodies sliced thinly

2 tbsp of chopped parsley

black pepper & sea salt

150g of parmesan

Olive oil

100ml of cream

50ml of white wine

450g of dried pappardelle, tagliatelle or even linguine

100g butter

Olive oil

Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, heat a little olive oil and add the butter until melted. Add the garlic and shallots and cook until just starting to soften. Add the sliced chestnut mushrooms next, season well and cook down until soft and starting almost caramelise, around five minutes.

Next add the white wine, cooking down until it thickens the butter. Add cream and parsley last.

Mushroom, chicken and kombu broth

This recipe is so simple and requires just a small amount of prep, after which you just heat the broth and add the ingredients, cooking until the chicken is done. 

Shiitake mushrooms work wonderfully here and can be found in some supermarkets and good greengrocers and organic vegetable stores. 

Although you might not be able to forage these mushrooms in the wild, some mushroom producers are growing them especially for farmers’ markets and restaurants, so look out for locally grown shiitakes if you can get them. 

Apparently they can only grow on oak which our native woodlands have in abundance. If you can’t get shiitakes then chestnut or oyster mushrooms will work absolutely fine. You can find kombu, which is a type of seaweed, in many supermarkets and almost all Asian markets.

2 large handfuls of spinach leaves, shredded (you can use baby spinach if it makes life easier)

3 or 4 pieces of dried Kombu, each roughly 5 inches long

1.5 litres of good quality chicken stock

1 heaped tsp of miso paste

1 thumb of ginger, pealed and cut into matchsticks

2 tbsp of mirin

2 chicken breasts, sliced into pieces

1 carrot, peeled and cut into short matchsticks

200g of shiitake mushrooms, sliced (you can use chestnut or oyster here too, or even a mix)

Toasted sesame seeds to serve

In a large saucepan, heat the chicken stock to boiling and leave simmering. Add the ginger, miso paste and mirin, stirring through and cook for a minute or two.

Slice the mushrooms thinly and add to the broth along with the chicken, spinach and kombu.

Cover the saucepan and cook for roughly 4 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Ladle the broth into bowls and top with some matchstick carrots and toasted sesame seeds.

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