Sunday, October 22, 2006

Autumn is icumen in

In these unusually hot October days, some people overdo their longing for autumn, while many more are too onesidedly in favour of warm, dry, sunny days at any time of year. This been said, I must admit I did enjoy one much too warm sunny afternoon visiting the Noordermarkt in Amsterdam. This organic farmer's market takes place Saturdays only in the Jordaan quarter in the centre of Amsterdam. Now, considering the fact that Amsterdam is the biggest city in this country and this is the only organic farmer's market in town, you'll be amazed to learn it counts just about thirty stalls. It must have been really busy then? Well, there was a fair amount of people on that beautiful day: American expats, Israeli tourists, Eastern European street musicians, and yes, inbetween I spotted some locals, mostly from the more well to do area's of Amsterdam. Organic farming, you must have guessed by now, isn't a big thing in The Netherlands.
Though small, the market has much to offer: donkey sausage, wild duck, pumpkin bread, goat's cheese with and without calvados, chard, parsley root, cranberry juice and an incredible range of mushrooms, to name but a few.
As our first goal was a rare performance of Gesualdo's fourth book of madrigals by The Kassiopeia Quintet in the adjacent church, we couldn't buy much, let alone meat, game or smelly cheeses. We settled for chanterelles instead, which were for sale in abundance (though I've read that this year's harvest is lacking in quality).

Before I give you the recipe of this posting (it isn't of the kind you couldn't come up with yourself, I fear), I'll share a few things I know about chanterelles. All borrowed knowledge, as I have not been equipped with generations of fungal experience, nor am I a passionate gatherer of wild mushrooms, contrary to all other Europeans - or so I learned from Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion. Reading Alexander, one gets the impression that the European hills are alife with hopping and dancing blonds carrying cane baskets, vanishing into the woods only to come hopping out again with their baskets brimfull of porcini, chanterelles and trompettes de la mort. This may hold true for eastern and southern European countries, but in The Netherlands the gathering of mushrooms is allowed in some area's only (which surprised me: I've always been told that it's forbidden). Even so, there is no tradition at all, and no Dutch pharmacist would or could help you sort out your potentially lethal harvest, as they do in France.
If you intend to give gathering wild mushrooms a try, it would be wise to start with chanterelles, as they are easily recognizable and don't have poisonous look-alikes. Do not, however, harvest too many: they are, according to Bocuse, hard to digest. Something else I learned from Bocuse, especialy about porcini: ask the vendor to cut open big ones to check if they're not wormy. The only other way to find out is by cooking them (the worms will crawl out), and that's too late.

Chanterelles à la crème
Serves two: 250 gr chanterelles, 2 shallots, few dices of lightly smoked belly pork or bacon, 100 ml cream, ground black pepper, salt.
There is no need to do much with these tasty mushrooms. Cut away brown spots and clean them with water and a soft brush (as these are wild mushrooms, there will be some dirt left). Fry bacon and shallots (cut into small pieces) till glazy and soft, add chanterelles and fry for 5 minutes. Add cream, and salt and pepper to taste. Eat with broad noodles. Or with baked potato. Or with breast of chicken. Or with entrecôte. Or with veal schnitzel. Or with venison steak.
There are all kind of possibilities: ne swik thou never noo.