Friday, 20 May 2016

Finding poetry in a mushroom

Mushrooms by Sylvia Plath

Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless
widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes.  We

Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow
Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!

We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek.
We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiples:

We shall by morning
inherit the earth.
Our foot's in the door.
Freshly made Tagliolini
Sylvia Plath's poem 'Mushrooms' beautifully captures the strength in the seeming delicacy of mushrooms.  Black Morels (Morchella elata) or Yellow Morels (Morchella esculenta) are more distinctive than most fungi but can be confused with the False Morel (Verpa bohemia) which bears a slightly less pitted cap. Chalky soil and coniferous woodland are their favourite habitat but conditions have to be just right before they will make an appearance.  Amongst other demands is a temperature which doesn't fall much below 5C.  So, early in Spring most morels on sale in the UK have been imported from Turkey but late spring we can hope to be offered UK-grown ones.  Morels are coming to the end of their season, so be quick.

I've written about morels before, specifically Creamed Morels and if the idea of them piled on toast appeals as much to you as it does to me, you'll follow the link.  But today I've made fresh Tagliolini, which falls like the tresses of Botticelli's Venus - yes, I am having a dreamy day in the kitchen!

Once you've made your pasta, you need only morels, shallot, a little butter, cream and, perhaps, chervil, and it takes moments to prepare.

Tagliolini with Creamed Morels
(Serves 4)

200g (8oz) '00' flour
2 large eggs
pinch of salt
a little extra flour and some fine polenta to prevent sticking

50g (2 oz) unsalted butter
1 shallot, peeled and very finely diced
About 75g (3 oz) fresh Morel mushrooms, sliced in two (more if large), brushed to clean
175-200ml (7-8 fl oz) double cream
Salt and pepper

To make your pasta, put the flour and salt in a bowl.  Make a well and add the eggs.  Mix to bring the ingredients together. Either knead in a mixer with a dough hook for 2 minutes or on a work surface, by hand, for 10 minutes.  If you use a machine, knead the dough by hand on the worktop for a further half minute (the warmth of your hands finishes it off perfectly). You will now have a smooth firm dough. Wrap it in cling film and allow to rest in the fridge for at least half an hour (it will keep happily in the fridge for 2 days).

Feed the pasta dough through the pasta machine on its lowest setting.  Fold the dough in two and repeat 3 more times.  Increasing the setting by one mark each time, feed the dough through the machine once until you reach setting No. 6.  I'm short of kitchen space so find it easier to cut the rolled pasta in two, or more, part-way through the rolling to make it more manageable and resulting in 2-4 sheets of pasta.  Lay the sheets on a very lightly floured work surface for 10-15 minutes to dry out a little (I tend to move it around a little to make sure it isn't sticking). This resting/drying period makes it easier to handle.

Feed the sheets of pasta through the Tagliolini (fine) cutter and lay the results out on a tray.  Scatter lightly with fine semolina (flour is OK but semolina is better) to make sure the strands don't stick together.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil and add salt (correctly it should be 1 litre of water to 10g of salt and for this quantity of pasta you should use at least 2 litres/20g). 
As the water comes to the boil, melt the butter in a large frying pan.  Add the finely-diced shallots and cook gently until completely softened.  Add the morels and cook for 2-3 minutes until softened.  Season with salt and pepper.

Add the tagliolini to the rapidly boiling water, bring back to the boil and cook - 90 seconds is right for me.  As the pasta boils, add the cream to the morels pan, cook gently until slightly thickened and remove from the heat.  Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce, stirring well to coat the pasta.  Stir in a little of the pasta water to loosen the mix a little.

Serve with a shower of chervil leaves and with parmesan on the table.  A sprinkle of poetry is optional.