Wild Mushrooms and a Beautiful Dessert

What is the best way to cook wild mushrooms? Gently, respectfully, and only after they have been carefully cleaned.

This year, wild mushrooms are nice and dry rather than soggy, the way they can be during a rainy year. This makes them easy to clean. Trim the stem ends, get a pastry or paint brush, and brush off any forest duff, leaves, or needles. Then check: if you’ve got cèpes and their stems are discolored, peel them. For girolles (chanterelles), look carefully in the folds, and sweep out whatever you find. Avoid cleaning mushrooms in water, because they love to absorb it and they’re already 90 percent water. You don’t want to dilute their flavor by adding more.

Follow These Directions

Cut or slice the mushrooms. Heat up duck or goose fat, or olive oil so it’s hot but not smoking, add the mushrooms with salt, toss and stir them; they’ll give up lots of liquid. Cook until the liquid mostly evaporates, then add minced garlic or shallots or both and continue cooking until the mushrooms are tender. Add a dollop of crème fraîche if you like, and let it melt into the mushrooms and serve them as a bed for something (like a poached egg), or as a side dish.

Gelatin and Mushrooms?

And now I want to talk about gelatin, something few people think about and fewer use. What’s the relationship with mushrooms? None, but the subjects are both on my mind, thus being shared with you!

For those who do think about gelatin, there is an immediate cancel-gelatin-culture response. Gelatin is perceived as tricky, one of those ingredients better left to the professionals. Wrong, entirely. Gelatin is easy. I use it in classes because the learning curve is steep, and the results are always a thrill!

Beef Stock and More

I became easy with gelatin as a cooking apprentice in Paris. The chefs, our instructors, added it to everything from beef stock to sweet cream and more. Then, I was fascinated by the leaves that look like paned glass; I still am. I love opening the cellophane package and extracting a leaf – I always think that there must be a way to use them in works of art. Ephemeral perhaps, because a drop of water would start it melting, but that’s another story.

Marshmallows and More

So what to do with gelatin? Make marshmallows! My marshmallow teacher was friend and colleague David Lebovitz, whose secrets I’ve passed along to many. My other favorite thing to do is melt gelatin into herb infusions and drape the wobbly result on fresh fruit. Not only do you create a tableau, but you present your guests with a dream of flavors and textures that will have them cooing by meals’ end.

It's Simple

Using gelatin is simple. Use the leaf version if you can; it is easiest, and the results are the most tender. You can find it at your favorite online grocery store. If you cannot, here are equivalents:
One standard envelope of gelatin equals 7 grams or 2-1/4 teaspoons, or 5 gelatin leaves.

For the recipe below, start with 1-1/2 teaspoons powdered gelatin. If you want more hold, you’ll use 2 teaspoons in your next test.

My favorite fruits to use in the following recipe are nectarine or peaches in summer, ripe pears, plums, grapes or figs right now. You will find other fruits – and berries – to use too.

Take your courage into your hands, get some gelatin, and have some fun! Serve wild mushrooms first, then your gelatin dessert to wind up the meal!


For the gelée:
7 stalks (3oz; 120g) fresh verveine
4 cups (1 liter) mineral water
½ cup (100g) sugar
3 (9g) gelatin leaves
½ cup (125ml) lemon juice (juice of 2-3 lemons)

For the fruit:
6 medium-sized nectarines
1 tablespoon vanilla sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

To assemble:
1/4 cup (60g) red currant jelly
Geranium blossoms
Fresh mint leaves

1. Coarsely chop the lemon verbena.

2. Place the water in medium-sized saucepan and add the lemon verbena. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat so the water is simmering, and simmer for 10 minutes. Whisk in the sugar, remove the pan from the heat and infuse, partially covered, for 20 minutes. Do not infuse for longer than this or the mixture may become bitter.

3. While the lemon verbena is infusing, place the gelatin leaves in a bowl and cover with cold water. Set aside.

4. Whisk the lemon juice into the infusion, then strain into a non-reactive bowl. Stir the softened gelatin into the warm lemon infusion and mix until all is dissolved. Let cool and refrigerate overnight.

5. The next day, slice the nectarines thinly and place them in a large non-reactive bowl. Add the sugar and the lemon juice and toss very gently so the slices don’t break.

6. Place ½ cup (125ml) of the lemon verbena gelée into a non-reactive bowl. Whisk in the red currant jelly. Reserve.

7. To assemble the dessert, spoon 1 tablespoon of the red currant-gelee mixture into each dessert glass. Place the slices that equal one-half nectarine atop the gelée mixture, arranging them attractively. Place a small mint leaf and a geranium blossom atop the fruit, then spoon 2 tablespoons of the gelée on top. Gently smooth out the gelée so that it completely covers the fruit. Either serve immediately, or refrigerate for up to 3 hours before serving.

10 to 12 servings


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