Last winter, the mushroom picking around here was better than the skiing. But even when a heavy blanket of snow covers the mountains, it’s still possible to get your fungus fix during the darkest days of the year.
The first hard frosts, usually close on the heels of Halloween, signal most Seattle mushroom hunters to hang up their baskets or else drive south. Already the gathering rains of late fall have begun to wash away perennial favorites: King boletes abdicate their thrones, and golden chanterelles bloat into a soggy yellow mess.
But not all wild mushrooms call it quits around Puget Sound when the weather turns nasty. The resourceful hunter can continue low-elevation bushwhacks below the snow line through the last days of the year, filling his or her larder with fresh fungi for holiday feasts.
A few years ago, on a clear Christmas Eve day, my family and I took a hike not far from Seattle. Lush carpets of green moss lined both sides of the trail, and by the end of our walk we had found enough yellowfoot poking from the moss to make a savory wild mushroom stuffing to go with our holiday roast.
The yellowfoot is a less heralded cousin of our beloved and showy golden chanterelle, and though more demure, it has a similar apricot aroma and rich mushroom flavor. More to the point, it withstands bouts of cold and rain that return other varieties to the earth. I look for them in damp conifer forests with plenty of decay, where they will sometimes carpet the moss in colonies around old stumps and fallen logs, so many that you can grab them up by the handful.
Another hardy variety found in similar habitat is the hedgehog, named for its soft spines (rather than gills) beneath the cap. The hedgehog is one of our easiest edible mushrooms to identify. Chefs love it for its exotic taste notes: black pepper, a touch of clove, the tang of coffee bean. Tolerant of cold, they’ll last in your refrigerator as long as two weeks.
Yellowfoot and hedgehog are two members of the triumvirate that commercial mushroom harvesters target throughout the winter in southwestern Oregon and northern California to supply restaurants from coast to coast. The third is one of my favorites: the black trumpet, a food-friendly species with flavor that is in inverse proportion to its rather flimsy stature. Though much more common to the south of us, black trumpets can be found in Washington if you know where to look. Only in recent years has there been a significant commercial harvest for this species in our state, which shows how much there is yet to learn about the fungus among us.
Winter Risotto with Butternut Squash & Black Trumpet Mushrooms Recipe
1 2-pound butternut squash,
cut into ½-inch cubes
4 tablespoons butter
1 large shallot, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
6–8 cups chicken or vegetable broth
⅓ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese,
2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped
1 packed cup fresh arugula
¼ pound black trumpet and/or
yellowfoot mushrooms, rinsed
1. Peel and cut squash into 1/2-inch cubes.
2. Warm stock in a pot.
3. Sauté squash in 2 tablespoons of butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, covered, for 5 minutes over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally. Remove lid and cook a few more minutes to lightly brown squash.
4. Add shallot and garlic. Cook together with squash for a few minutes before deglazing pan with wine. Immediately add rice and stir thoroughly to coat. Reduce heat to medium.
5. Stir in a ladle or two of stock, repeating as the liquid is absorbed until rice is al dente.
6. While risotto is cooking, sauté mushrooms in 1 tablespoon of butter. Set aside.
7. Finish risotto off the heat by stirring in sage, arugula, cheese and last tablespoon of butter. Season with salt to taste. Garnish with sautéed mushrooms.
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