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myMEGusta

Named for things that please me (“me gusta” in Spanish) and rhymes with balabusta (Yiddish for “good homemaker”).

Archive for the month “August, 2013”

Chanterelles! Pfifferlingen! Girolles!

It’s time!

These golden jewels are popping up in woodsy areas in the Pacific Northwest, in Minnesota, in Europe, really anywhere relatively north, and smart foragers are snapping them up, some to land in their own sauté pans, and some to go to market.

Chanterelles at the Rialto Market, Venice, Italy

Chanterelles at the Rialto Market, Venice, Italy

Chanterelle mushrooms (aka girolles in French and pfifferlingen in German) are considered to be among the “foolproof” wild mushrooms. None of the dangerous ones look remotely like them, and “false chanterelles” (barely edible and not worth the trouble) are a different color configuration.

They are also considered to be among the most choice: tender but firm in texture and with a unique flavor which is enhanced with a little heat so they are best just barely cooked.

Most chanterelle seekers will do best to check out farmers markets or upscale grocery stores, albeit not the cheapest way to find them, but the most reliable if you don’t know where to look.

Discovering Gold!

Discovering Gold!

MyMEGusta had the pleasure of harvesting these little beauties near Duluth, MN, a few years ago at a location she won’t divulge (thus respecting the mushroom hunters’ code of silence).

Pfifferlingen in Herbed Cream with Semolina Dumplings

Pfifferlingen in Herbed Cream with Semolina Dumplings

European food lovers are very fortunate in that the custom of focusing on seasonally special items is alive and well. Chefs’ creations run the gamut from traditional favorites (e.g. a hefty portion of pfifferlingen served with herbed cream and semolina dumplings recently at the Ratskeller in Regensburg, Germany) to more exotic offerings in three star restaurants.

I fondly remember my first encounter with this intense focus on seasonality at lunch time in Munich, Germany in the 80’s, happily working my way through a plate of pfifferlingen in cream. And, on another trip, another time but in France, “salade tiede” (warm salad) which was mounds of barely cooked, lightly seasoned chanterelles on a bed of lettuce.

Tete de Moin Cheese

Tete de Moinr Cheese

These mushrooms are so beloved in Europe that their name has been borrowed for a little mechanism used to shave Tete de Moine (monk’s head) cheese in Switzerland, because the cheese then resembles them.

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The Red Peril

Sometimes the things you come to love the best are things you used to hate.

My introduction to paprika was the flavorless sort that cafeteria ladies dumped on smelly fish, presumably to get it to look appetizing if you could get past the odor.

My latest taste of paprika on fish was pure delight: Dorade fresh from the Mediterranean cooked gently in garlic studded Spanish olive oil and sprinkled with spicy hot paprika. Simple, elemental, delicious. The fact that it was consumed at an excellent seaside restaurant in Mallorca (right behind us, a table of people who appeared to be the crew of one of the King’s Cup Regatta ships) didn’t hurt.

Dorade

Dorade

The irony of this dish is that it really wasn’t pretty at all. In fact, the sprinkles of paprika actually made it look quite messy, and unappealing, but that really didn’t matter after the first bite.

Paprika Stand at the Budapest Market

Great Market Hall in Budapest

An import to the Old World from Latin America, dried red peppers are closely associated with the great cuisines of Central Europe.  None of the paprikash dishes we identify with Hungarian cooking existed before the capsicums were introduced by Spanish and other explorers/plunderers, and it took a while for these plants to be shared throughout Europe and for locals, such as the Hungarians, to learn how well they grew in their farms, and what a fantastic flavor source they were when ripened, dried, and ground.

An extraordinary array of paprika products can be found at the Great Market Hall of Budapest where you could believe that you took a wrong turn and landed in Santa Fe when you see the hanging “ristras” of dried chilis.

The paprika in lots of home kitchens should probably be relegated to the recycling bin, as most people stock only the bland type which gets stale when emancipated from the spice rack only on rare occasions when a little color is needed.

THIS is paprika!

THIS is paprika!

Better to seek out the real Hungarian paprika, now available in most supermarkets, and certainly via Penzey’s and other good spice merchants.

Strong Steven is one of myMEGusta’s favorite condiments, discovered on café tables in Budapest the same way ketchup bottles are fixtures in the US, and impossible to find other than from Judi’s Univer Store (www.judisuniverstore.com) , a Hungarian food specialty mail order house.

Paprika Condiment

Paprika Condiment

Smear it on a piece of fish, sprinkle on some panko and bake just until the fish is done for a super delicious, super simple main course. They also make a milder version for the faint of heart.

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