Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Mushroom: A Kindred Spirit

I give you the mushroom.  A delectable fungus, bursting with glutamate-powered flavor, it adds an earthy, muscular, comfort-food component to anything it touches.

As you probably know, the mushroom spends a great deal of time in the dark.  For some strains, darkness is mandatory and the most expensive mushrooms in the world can only be found by specially-trained dogs and pigs who dig the mushrooms out of the earth they spend their lives buried within.  Such mushrooms are clueless about the world at large, having never even glimpsed it in all its complexity.  Yet, by virtue of their fungal nature, they nonetheless have a strange social connection to other living things.

Muscular, usually dirty, in the dark and clueless.  Remind you of any members of our own species?

“Hey, when is that big show your daughter is in?”

“Um, I do not know.  Ask the wife.”

I’m sure cavemen had perfectly good reasons for getting married.  For the modern man, one of the primary reasons is social survival in a complicated world. The complexity of contemporary family life is simply not a thing that can be clubbed into submission, thus limiting the usefulness of the skills evolution provided us.  In other words, husbands and fathers spend a lot of time in the dark despite apparent social connections.  Not that there is anything wrong with that…

“Is your son signed up for the soccer season?”

“Um, I do not know.  Ask the wife.”

Males can bring home the bacon, and the more enlightened of us can fry it up in a pan.  But, knowing who needs to be where at what time wearing what shoes and carrying which equipment is beyond the number of moving parts the male evolved to handle.   We are social mushrooms, naturally connected to other things yet, well, in the dark.

So, when a father is asked a factual question about the comings and goings of the family, the answer “I do not know” is a true answer if verity exists at all in this world.  It is a statement of the knowledge that a fact exists in the space-time continuum while expressing true wonder at what form that fact might actually take at any given moment.

“What are you guys doing this weekend?”

“Um, I do not know.  Ask the wife.” 

This answer, when spoken by husbands and fathers, should not be interpreted as “Nothing, what did you have in mind?”  A better, more accurate, far more useful interpretation is: “Talk to the wife.  I’m just the husband and father.”  It is not that the thing in question is not knowable.  Just that someone else knows it.

Now, in fairness to all the ladies out there, I must admit my own wife’s suspicion that this ignorance is not evolutionary, but a willful strategy to dodge the responsibility of maintaining life in a crazy world. 

“How can you know when the Texas Longhorns football season starts and be clueless about dance classes and piano lessons?”

“Um, I do not know.  Ask the – Wait a minute.  This is a trick, right?  Opening day is September 4, but kickoff time is 2:30 Central.”

So, I wish to express an affinity between all the Chef Dads out there and the lowly mushroom.  Organisms that are organically connected to other things, yet spend a great deal of time in the dark.

Creamy Mushroom Pasta
A bit of butter
~ 1 pound white mushrooms
~ ½ pound shitake mushrooms, stemmed
½ a large onion, diced
A few cloves garlic, chopped
Fresh herbs (here I used rosemary, thyme, parsley, oregano)
3/4 cup or so chicken stock
½ cup or so half and half
~ ¾ pound bulky pasta (here I used farfalle)

Sautee the white mushrooms with a pinch of salt in the butter with just a splash of olive oil over it.  I usually put all the mushrooms in the pan together, though some no doubt would scoff that they are likely to stew before they brown.  True to one degree or another, but as long as you’re browning them afterward and you pay attention to them, I don’t worry about that.  

When the mushrooms start taking on color, add the onions.  Sautee everything until the onions are translucent.  Add the garlic.   Cook further until you get hit in the face with a good whiff of garlic from the pan. 

Add the stock and stir.  Let that cook down, reducing maybe in half.  Add the shitakes somewhere in here.  Putting the more flavorful mushrooms in at this later point allows them to give up their juices right into the sauce and flavor the whole dish. 

Cook until your shitakes wilt, but you still want it all to be a bit loose and saucy, then add the herbs and adjust seasoning.  Finish with the cream and allow that to reduce a bit until it is saucy.  Don’t be afraid to add a little more half and half if you need to.  BTW, once you put that half and half into your pot, watch it like a hawk so it does not boil over and dump all that fat onto the flame under the pan.

Toss with the pasta and serve with fresh grated parmesan.

And if you want to know how good it all was…ask the wife!

1 comment:

  1. Happy Fathers Day!

    I got to celebrate Fathers Day with my own Father in Seattle. I am working for a farm advocacy group, and enjoying it greatly!