Modern cooks have almost forgotten a time when seasons dictated the menu. Modern transportation and supermarkets have allowed us to procure asparagus in December and apples in May. We still appreciate the flavor of fresh and local produce in the summer, but gone are the days when I eagerly anticipated a winter break to NYC for a matinee followed by a treat of NY cheesecake and “fresh strawberries” at the famous Lindy’s restaurant.
However, there are still seasonal treasures to be found in the fall. One of them is wild mushrooms, which I recently discovered at a local farm market. For anyone who considers mushrooms a staple in the kitchen, they are a treat. Dishes featuring shitake and dried porcini have expanded our horizons recently, but at this time of the year it is possible to get fresh hen of the woods, maitake, or oyster mushrooms that spread like large fans on tree bark. These are firm like shitake, can be crisped, and enhance the flavors of any pasta dish.
Crisped hen of the woods with creamy linguine
Recipe is for two servings. Cook 6-8 oz linguine in salted water for two minutes less than directed for ‘al dente’, save 1/2 cup of cooking water and drain.
Brush 8 oz maitake and break apart in bite sized pieces. In a large pan heat 1 tbsp olive oil and 2 tbsp butter and stir in single layer the mushrooms and 1 thinly sliced shallot. Cook without stirring on moderate heat for 3 minutes, turn, and cook for additional 3 minutes. Stir in 1/4 seeded red pepper sliced in thin strips, 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, and 2 tbsp lemon juice. Cook for another minute and remove from heat.
Return the drained pasta to the pot with the reserved cooking water. Heat and stir in 1 cup half and half and the mushrooms. Cook on low heat 2 minutes. Stir in 1 teaspoon Arrowroot mixed with 2 tbsp water and stir until thickened. If using cream instead of half and half, the Arrowroot is unnecessary. Finally stir in 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese and 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley.
Divide in bowls and serve sprinkled with additional grated Parmesan cheese and chopped chives. This goes well with a sliced cucumber and radish salad dressed with seasoned rice vinegar.
Delicata squash is another seasonal treasure. Like all winter squashes it represents tasty, warm comfort food that has the added attraction of being relatively low in calories. “Delicata,” as its name implies, has a tender skin, which does not need to be peeled and is much appreciated by anyone who has had to struggle to peel acorn, butternut, or kabocha squash. However, because it does not have the tough skin of the others, it does not keep as well through the winter.
Sausage stuffed roast delicata squash
Wash a 6–8-inch delicata squash, cut off the ends, slice lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with garlic salt, lay face down on an aluminum foil lined baking sheet and bake in a 400-degree oven for 20-25 minutes.
Prepare stuffing while the squash is baking.
Remove the casing of 2-3 Italian sausages, break up the meat and cook to brown in a pan. Remove from pan and set aside.
In the same pan heat 1 tbsp olive oil, 1/2 chopped onion, and 1 large stalk of celery chopped with leaves and cook for 5 minutes on medium heat.
Stir in 2 chopped garlic cloves, 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes, and 1 generous teaspoon Sicilian seasoning. Cook for 1-2 minutes, remove from heat and stir in 2 tbsp chopped parsley.
Remove squash from the oven, turn each squash half face up, and mound filling evenly in the squash. Sprinkle each with 1 tbsp Parmesan cheese and return to the oven for 2-3 minutes at 400 degrees. Serve each stuffed squash boat per plate with sautéed kale or another green vegetable on the side.
Damariscotta is fortunate to host a wild mushroom growing company that has been well represented in the local farmers markets and is a great source of shitake, oyster, and other unusual mushrooms.
(I. Winicov Harrington, of Waldoboro, is the author of “How to Eat Healthy and Well for Less Than $5.00 a Day: The Smart-Frugal Food Plan.” For more information, go to winicov-harrington.com.)