Wandering about the farmers market a few weeks ago, in that weird time of the year where you can buy both squash and tomatoes, I was in a funk. I couldn’t decide if I should be wearing a sweater or not, much less what I wanted to cook. Was it chilly or wasn’t it? Did I want potatoes? Radishes? Should I get eggs, or cheese or apples? I was half asleep and fully distracted, walking in circles with nothing in my bag to show for my efforts. I eventually found myself in front of the mushroom vendor and simply said “yes”.
I really love mushrooms. It must be part of my Polish heritage, bred generations deep into these veins. My family often jokes that the mushroom is our national flower. I agree. During the holidays we celebrate this humble fungi in a killer pierogi filling that is absolutely delicious. I’ve been known to make a dinner out of a bowl of whole button mushrooms, sautéed in butter and garlic and I really don’t think there’s anything better. On occasion, I’ve gone mushroom foraging with mixed success and am delighted to find a patch of morels or chanterelles and more delighted with what they become for dinner. That morning when I saw the fat baskets of brown button mushrooms on the vendor’s table, I was drawn like a moth to a flame.
It was the only thing that seemed to make sense at that moment. My Unprocessed October Challenge had hit the rails, the sad unfortunate victim of constant travel and an ungodly amount of recipe testing and corporate work. My dining room table was overflowing with ingredients and stuff, none of it the least enticing. I’d been eating terribly, having a rather Processed October instead and needed something fresh and earthy to get back on track. That heavy bag of mushrooms was my lifeline.
Sure, I ate a good handful sautéed in the best possible way. With the rest, I made a salad. It seemed to fit my mood at the time – simple, uncomplicated, straight forward and full of flavor. I took the mushrooms, shaved them thin with a mandoline, and arranged them on a platter, overlapping slightly in a pretty kaleidoscope pattern. A pile of peppery greens from my garden went on top in a tangled heap. I then shaved some fennel and red onion with the same mandoline and tossed them with a bright lemony vinaigrette. The wedge of parmesan came out along with a vegetable peeler and long, thin ribbons fell on top. The platter was gorgeous, shades of white and green in thin slivers with bits of pinkish purple here and there. It was simple, fresh, crisp and bright like the fall day outside my window. If you’re looking for a nice and unusual salad to bring to the family Thanksgiving table, this will serve you well.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: HYPNOTIC. Strange description, I realize, but the act of slicing the mushrooms and fennel paper-thin is completely mesmerizing, and I find, rather relaxing. Making this salad settled my chaotic mind, forcing me to focus on a single task, the one at hand. It was beautiful, prettily layered and arranged on the plate in a way that belied the effort taken to make it that way. And it was delicious – mellow and tart and pungent, all at the same time.
Other mushroom recipes: Escargot Roasted Mushrooms (i love this recipe SO much), Chanterelles & Fresh Pasta, Guinness Chicken & Mushroom Boxty
Six years ago: Multigrain Bread, Cleaning Out the Freezer, Chicken Salad with a lot of good things
Five years ago: Blue Cheese Dressing with a Wedge Salad, Peterson Garden Project – The End
Four years ago: Maple Buttermilk Spoonbread with Glazed Pears
Three years ago: Kale & Squash Salad
Two years ago: Apple Cider Compote and an Orchard Party
Last year: Roasted Delicata Squash – 4 Ways
SHAVED MUSHROOM & FENNEL SALAD
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
6 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ pound mushrooms, stems trimmed even with caps
1 fresh fennel bulb, (about 6 ounces) stems trimmed and tough outer layers removed
½ medium red onion, peeled
1 Tablespoon fresh parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1 ½ cups baby arugula or other peppery greens
wedge of parmesan, Parmesan Reggiano if possible
fennel fronds, roughly chopped for garnish
- In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and olive oil.
- Season to taste with a pinch each of salt and pepper. Set aside until needed.
- With a mandoline or a sharp, thin-bladed knife, slice the mushrooms as thin as possible.
- Arrange on a serving platter in a single, slightly overlapping layer.
- In the same manner, slice the fennel and red onion very thinly.
- Toss the fennel, red onion and parsley with half of the dressing.
- Scatter the arugula loosely over the mushrooms.
- Top with the dressed fennel and onion mixture.
- Using a vegetable peeler, shave the parmesan into long, thin ribbons and scatter on top of the salad.
- Drizzle the remaining dressing over the salad and top with a pinch or two of ground black pepper and the chopped fennel fronds.
- Serve immediately. If you care to make something ahead, the dressing can be made 2 days in advance and kept refrigerated.