Sunday, 30 June 2013

Forget the dolmades – try this with your vine leaves

Mushrooms on top of vine leaves
There’s always something new to learn – and neither the world of gardening nor that of cooking are any exception.

After mentioning, a few days ago, that my vine is developing nicely, m’friend George pointed out that the is a recipe that uses vine leaves in the Divine Mrs D’s Summer Cooking.

Mushrooms cooked in vine leaves, apparently.

 I went straight to the cookery books.

My copy is part of the Grub Street hardback Elizabeth David Classics, which also includes Mediterranean Food and French Country Cooking: a delightful collection.

In this context, that means that I had two recipes for this same dish.

In Mediterranean Food – her 1950 debut – Mrs D included a recipe for ‘Cèpes à l’Italienne’, which involved “1lb cèpes or morels or other mushrooms, vine leaves, oil, garlic, salt and pepper”.

The mushrooms are cleaned, de-stalked, sprinkled with salt and left for a few minutes, before being put “in a warm oven a minute or two to dry”.

The “washed and dried” leaves are placed at the bottom of a “fireproof” dish and covered with a film of olive oil, before being placed “over the flame” until the oil is hot: “not boiling”, though.

The cèpes go in (“stalk side up”) and the pot goes in a moderate oven for half an hour.

After that, the stalks are cut into thin pieces and, with a clove of garlic, added to the dish. It’s seasoned and cooked for a further 10 minutes.

By 1955, when Summer Cooking was first published, the recipe had been changed subtly.

Now called simply: “mushrooms cooked in vine leaves”, David introduces it by saying that she has “already published recipes similar to this one,” but she makes “no apology for including it again here, as I think many people who have a vine growing in their gardens would be glad to now it”.

The mushrooms by this time are simply “cleaned whole flat” ones, and the leaves are blanched before lining the dish.

There is more garlic here too – “3 or 4 whole cloves” – and the mushrooms are finally covered with more vine leaves before the dish is lidded.

In this case, it requires a slow oven for 35 minutes.

But apart from the simplification – had David and/or her publishers decided that readers might prefer a simpler version? – the most interesting difference in how this is written up is in the explanation of what the dish achieves.

“The great point about this dish is that the vine leaves make cultivated mushrooms taste like field mushrooms,” explains David, in a short, bracketed note.

All of which sounds fascinating – and very tempting. Now my vine isn’t currently big enough to be raiding for leaves for such an experiment, but the one at the back of the potager is.

Although it borders the area where the bins are kept, I picked leaves from furthest away. The blanching ensured they were clean.

I hadn't gone for the most generic of ’shrooms, since this was intended as the first course of a Sunday dinner, but for a selection of girolles, pied bleu and king oysters.

One of the latter was sliced into four lengthways. The rest were trimmed and brushed as necessary.

And I diverted from the recipe slightly in slicing my garlic.

It’s a perfectly easy dish to construct. Since I don’t have a small lidded dish, I covered one tightly with foil, pleated.

My “slow oven” was set to 150˚C (fan).

This really is something that I will do again. The leaves add something to the mushrooms that seems to deepen the flavour. A very, very satisfying result.

After that, it was a simple case of little lamb chops, each topped with a sprig of fresh oregano from the patio and grilled until the fat was crisp, then served with lemon, in true Italian style.

Ready for the oven
Given such an Italian influence to the meal, the only question was what else to serve with that.

Since The Other Half isn't exactly keen on polenta – which is how my first experience of lamb chops and lemon came when it was served in Venice – I opted for a rather French solution. Well, one I picked up in Paris, at any rate.

I cooked and puréed a small amount of potato, but mixed it with good virgin oil instead of cream and butter.

Seasoned with fleur de sel, each serving was in a small bowl, with a dimple in the smoothed top (back of a teaspoon), into which a little further of my best virgin oil, green and peppery, was dripped.

Perfect. Though I say so myself.

What that single potato also meant, though, was a debut for one of the new Le Creuset saucepans.

They’ll take some getting used to – not least because of a smashing piece of design.

Every lid has a small hole in it to vent the steam, meaning that you can boil without either having the lid balanced so as to leave a gap or having to keep the temperature higher.

So it’s easy to see that those pans will actually save on fuel – they’re not just good to look at.

Good design can pay dividends. And a recipe for mushrooms cooked in vine leaves, whether published once or more, will certainly be done more.

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