There aren’t many cities where you can get on the underground and go straight to the beach. Rio is one, and Barcelona is another. While most people think of my adopted Mediterranean home as a sort of giant seaside resort, we are also a stone’s throw from the Pyrenees. In fact, Spain is the second most mountainous country in Europe after Switzerland.
With the mountains so close by, autumn is an exciting time. Wild mushrooms start to emerge from the musty earth. A national mania takes over city dwellers and mountain folk alike as they all set out to forage for these fabled fruits of the forest.
Indeed, mycologists pop up on TV advising people on the best spots to find each type, showing how different species grow at different altitudes. Catalunya must be the only place on earth where a child can be proud of the fact that they have a parent who’s an expert in fungi…
At this time every year I try to make this delicious soup, which I found on the BBC food website about ten years ago.
The original recipe calls for mixed wild mushrooms. I tend to use rovellons and camagrocs. Rovellons (lactarius sanguifluus) are wide, pumpkin-hued mushrooms that have a meaty, creamy texture, hence their English name: bloody milk caps. They provide the main bulk of the soup. You can see them in the bag and the bowl on the left of the picture above.
Camagrocs (craterellus lutescens) are the thinner ones with a coffee-coloured head sprouting from a stem the colour of egg-yolk. In English, they’re known as yellow foot mushrooms. They wilt delightfully when you fry them in the pan along with onion, garlic, thyme and lashings of butter.
As you can tell, I buy mine from the market rather than risking kidney failure by picking the wrong ones, as happened to poor Nicholas Evans, the author of The Horse Whisperer. Tragically, this fate befalls some poor people every year.
So basically, follow the BBC Good Food website recipe. Chop up an onion and a clove of garlic and fry them in butter for five minutes along with plenty of thyme. Then add your chopped mushrooms for another handful of minutes.
The trick to getting oodles of flavour is to use dried mushrooms in the base of the soup. The recipe calls for dried ceps (boletus edulis) but I have found that any type of dried mushroom works fine. I used moixerons (calocybe gambosa) known as ‘St George’s mushrooms’ in English, due to their traditional appearance in Britain being on 23 April.
At the outset, you pour boiling water over the dried mushrooms, and leave them aside for a few minutes. Then you add the rehydrated mushrooms to the main mixture, saving the liquor for later.
Once your mushrooms, onions and thyme are nicely frying, add about two-thirds of a litre of vegetable stock along with the liquor from the dried moixerons. Bring it to the boil and leave to simmer for half an hour.
Then add 100 ml of crème fraîche (we use much less than the original recipe suggests). I reckon you can use double cream here but I haven’t dared meddle that far with the original recipe – wild mushrooms don’t come cheap.
Finally, let your concoction cool a little and then blend it together. A professional chef would probably sieve the mixture at this point, but I quite like its slightly grainy texture. Add some chopped chives and a drizzle of your best olive oil. The original recipe called for truffle oil but after wasting a whole day traipsing around Barcelona looking for it, I gave up and used normal oil instead.
Then sit back, lap up the praise of your dinner companions (my wifey in my case), and dream of opening your own mountain restaurant where you can cheerfully spend your days cooking up autumnal recipes whilst the fog rises from the valley and cuts you off from the world at large.