When the onset of winter starts to get to you and stopping to smell the flowers is not an option because they are all dead, consider the mushroom. The fungi, to quote the punch line of a very bad joke, are fun guys—existing in a variety that is fascinating to behold. There is something for everyone: chanterelles for the Francophile; wood ear and dead man’s fingers (inedible, unfortunately) for those who prefer a touch of the morbid.
Sadly, most of these aren’t available at the grocery store or even in the more extended selection at the Covered Market. But even the prepackaged stuff at Sainsbury’s and Tesco have their own fascination: the transformation that the Agaricus bisporus undergoes as it ages from the common white button mushroom into the cremini and still later to the Portobello is a far more triumphal process of development than the Ages of Man.
More to the point, mushrooms lend themselves to a variety of simple preparations that are satisfying on a chilly night. To make a soup instead, skip the pasta and add water or broth to the cooked mushrooms—either chop them finely before cooking or blend everything afterwards to get it into drinkable form. Have a taste—afterward, winter won’t seem quite so bad.
Linguine with mushrooms and caramelized onion
Preparation time: 20-25 minutes
250 g chestnut or Portobello mushrooms*
Knob of butter
200 g linguine
2 slices Pancetta (optional)
Knob of hard cheese, grated (optional)
Handful of parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
* Tip: In the unlikely event that supply exceeds appetite, the life of raw mushrooms can be extended by putting them into a paper bag or slipping paper towel into the box to absorb moisture.
While cooking the pasta, melt the butter in a pan and thinly slice the onion. Cook the onion in the butter over medium-low heat until softened, approximately fifteen minutes. (To speed things up, cover the pan and just stir it every few minutes.) If you’re using pancetta, you can slice it into strips and add it at this point. Meanwhile, thinly slice the mushrooms. Add them when the onions are just about done, and turn the heat up to high. Salt the pan to bring out the liquid in the mushrooms, and let them cook for a few more minutes until soft. When the linguine is done, drain it and add it to the pan, then mix in the cheese, pepper, and parsley before serving.