Saturday, October 8, 2011

Advice from a Caterpillar

One side will make you grow taller, and the other side will make you grow shorter.”

“One side of what? The other side of what?” thought Alice to herself.

“Of the mushroom,” said the Caterpillar, just as if she had asked it out loud; and in another moment it was out of sight.

Alice remained looking thoughtfully at the mushroom for a minute, trying to make out which were the two sides of it; and, as it was perfectly round, she found this a very difficult question. However, at last she stretched her arms round it as far as they would go, and broke off a bit of the edge with each hand.

“And now which is which?” she said to herself, and nibbled a little of the right-hand bit to try the effect. The next moment she felt a violent blow underneath her chin: it had struck her foot!

As humans, we sometimes eat fungus when prompted by cheeky insect larvae. And we sometimes eat them just because it’s tasty. I imagine Alice must have felt like that lonesome, hungry cave man that picked the first (poisonous?) mushroom and thought, Should I consume this? Or perhaps she felt like Eve with the serpant coiled beside her ankle hissing, “Just eat it, it’ll be awesome!”

Outside of the US, where “don’t touch it, it’s deadly” is the wild mushroom mantra, foraging mushrooms is an international pastime for friends of the fungus.

For instance, last year in Italy, eighteen mushroom zealots were killed mushroom scouting in the uncharted Italian backwoods. In most cases, the deadly dapperling and false skullcap were not to blame. These foragers had no idea what they were doing. Rampant mushroom lust led one elderly woman to plunge to her death. A wounded man holding a bag of frozen carrots to his forehead famously admitted at the crime scene, “A caterpillar told us to do it.”

So don’t be afraid to love the mushroom. You’re probably not an idiot. Here’s a recipe, adapted from Barefoot Contessa's Sauteed Mushrooms.

Basically Harmless Sauteed Wild Mushrooms*

2 pounds mixed wild mushrooms (I used cremini, shiitaki, and oyster)

½ cup olive oil

1 cup chopped shallots (or 4 large shallots)

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and pepper to taste
6 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup flat-leaf parsley

Clean the mushrooms somehow. Slice away the stems and keep the caps. You might chop them up if you have larger mushrooms. I, however, did not.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan. Sautee the shallots until they become translucent. Then add the olive oil, mushrooms, salt, and pepper. Continue cooking and stirring until they look juicy. Add the garlic and stir. After about two minutes, mix the parsley and thyme into the mushrooms and serve.

*No Italians were harmed in the making of this side dish.

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