Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Blazei Mushrooms: A Little Almond in Every Bite

I paid a visit to Specialty Produce last week to get some pasilla chiles, but while I was there I asked, as always, "what do you have that's new?"

Glad I asked because Richard Harrington grinned and brought over a bag of dried mushrooms that they had just gotten in. Blazei mushrooms grown locally in Escondido by Mountain Meadow Mushrooms. These fungi have quite the unique flavor profile: almonds.

Now sometimes you hear these kinds of descriptives: a note of peach, overtones of citrus. And, you have to strain to get them. Sometimes you just don't. In the case of the blazei mushrooms, there's no stretching. I opened the bag, took a breath, and thought I was breathing in marzipan.

Then, the fresh mushrooms were brought out. The almond flavor is less pronounced, of course, but still there, enveloped in a beautiful meaty texture.

I took some home and used them that night -- pretty much mandatory because they have a very short shelf life. Since I wanted to see if the almond flavor was still evident after being cooked, I decided to keep it simple. I looked up flavor profiles in one of my favorite resources, The Flavor Bible, and figured I'd stick with the ingredients that complement almonds. So, I sliced and sauteed the mushrooms with shallots in butter and a little olive oil, toasted a handful of pine nuts, and cut up some goat cheese. All this was tossed with pappardelle pasta from Trader Joe's.

The dish was a fascinating and delicious combination of flavors. Yes, that almond essence came through, but gently. The texture of the mushroom was almost like a plump fresh shitake, nicely offset by the crunchiness of the pine nuts.

As for the dried blazei mushrooms, they're going to be paired this week with wheat berries in a side dish.

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