Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Caesar Mushroom Salad

                   …not a mushroom Caesar salad.

Each weekly visit to the farmers market brings something new. This week “my” mushroom man Chris Darrah (Mainly Mushrooms) had Caesar mushrooms (Amanta caesarea), something I had never seen before. This mushroom is believed to be a favorite of the Roman emperors, but there’s no way to know for certain. There is the story of Agrippina, the fourth wife of the Emperor Claudius. She had a son Nero from a previous marriage. Having plans for her son in only a way a mother could, she persuaded Claudius to adopt Nero so he would be in line to ascend the throne. No patient woman our Agrippina, she hastened Claudius’s quick demise by preparing a meal of his favorite mushrooms, Amanta caesarea, tossing in some Amanta phalloides, the death cap mushroom, for good measure. There’s your quick lesson in Roman history. (Somewhere there are mycologists laughing, “Amanata phalloides…that’s a good one!”)
Normally I wouldn’t think of using wild mushrooms in a raw preparation. Some, such as morels, are poisonous raw. Chanterelles can produce a reaction in some people and are said to taste unpleasantly peppery when eaten raw. But raw is the preferred method for Caesar mushrooms. The simpler the better appears to be the rule. I have based this recipe on those that appear to be typical of Italian-style Caesar mushroom recipes.
If you don’t have Caesar mushrooms, you could use either white button or crimini mushrooms. It would also be good using warm sautéed mushrooms, either wild -chanterelles or Porcini, for example, or domestic, such as shiitake, oyster- you get the idea. Don’t let the lack of Caesar mushrooms prevent you from making a salad like this one. Unless you don’t like mushrooms, but I don’t think you would have read this far. Feel free to improvise. After all, I did.

Caesar Mushroom Salad                                        
For two servings
¼ pound Caesar Mushrooms
two handfuls baby arugula
3 Tablespoons toasted hazelnuts, finely chopped
shaved Parmesan cheese
1.Prepare the vinaigrette for the salad (recipe below)
2. Wipe the mushrooms clean with a paper towel. Trim off the bottoms of the mushrooms and thinly slice them lengthwise.
3. Place the arugula into a bowl and add the sliced mushrooms. Dress with a few tablespoons of the lemon vinaigrette and mix together. Add the hazelnuts and mix to distribute. Divide the salad between two plates. Using a vegetable peeler, shave some Parmesan cheese over each salad and serve. Hail Caesar.

Lemon Vinaigrette
Juice from ½ lemon, about 1 ½ Tablespoons
1 or 2 small cloves garlic, finely minced
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Place all of the ingredients into a bowl and whisk together. Set aside until needed.

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