Thursday, May 22, 2008

Spanish Recipe of the Week: Garlicky Wild Mushrooms

I used to live in Vallecas, one of the last remaining truly Madrileño barrios. There's nothing touristy about the place, very few chain stores, and the majority of bars and restaurants are Spanish. In fact, when I lived there the only non-Spanish place was a lonely Chinese restaurant.

One of the local bars was owned by two Spanish brothers with a passion for wild mushrooms. Each Sunday during mushroom-hunting season, one of them would go to the countryside with neighbors while the other stayed back to run the bar. Around 6 p.m., the mushroom hunters would triumphantly enter the bar to show all the neighbors what they had found. The largest mushroom would always be hidden and then taken out with a flourish to the cheers of all the neighbors. And when I say large, I mean LARGE -- one was almost the size of a dinner plate! The winning mushroom would then be passed over the bar to the brother who had stayed behind, who would take the mushroom back to the kitchen and cook up a dish to be shared among all of the neighbors. One week it was pasta with wild mushrooms, another week it was Spanish omelet with wild mushrooms... But usually it was a standard Spanish dish of setas al ajillo (garlicky wild mushrooms).

Here is the most basic recipe for this simple but delicious Spanish dish:

Setas al Ajillo (Wild Mushrooms with Garlic)

-- 1/2 pound wild mushrooms
-- 4 tablespoons olive oil
-- 3 cloves garlic, minced
-- salt and pepper
-- parsley, chopped

Gently wash the wild mushrooms to remove any dirt (if you use too much water, it will make the mushrooms soggy). Slice the mushrooms into large strips.

Heat the olive oil over moderate heat and add the minced garlic. When the garlic starts to turn golden, add the sliced mushrooms. Lower the heat and allow the mushrooms to sauté for about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Add some salt, pepper, and chopped parsley and stir to coat evenly. Pour the mushrooms into a large dish and serve immediately.

If you order garlic mushrooms at a tapas bar or restaurant in Spain, they will probably come with small pieces of bacon or jamón. If you choose to add bacon or ham to your setas, dice the meat and add it along with the garlic. Eliminate or reduce the amount of salt you add at the end.

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