I was wondering what to write about my mushroom stew when we sat down to watch the DVD of Control last night. This wonderful film tells the story of the late Ian Curtis, the Mancunian lead singer of post punk band Joy Division. It is a beautiful film shot in black and white by Anton Corbijn who had taken iconic photographs of Curtis before his suicide in 1980.
I first bought a Joy Division album in my early 20s. I was quite taken with the breathtakingly beautiful Love Will Tear Us Apart single. The album disappointed me because the other songs were so different. It has taken me years to learn to appreciate the depth of the passion and the sadness that imbues these songs.
If I dare to be so bold as to make a comparison between the sublime and the stew, this made me think about my journey with mushrooms. To be honest, I was only making mushroom stew for Holler and Lisa’s No Croutons Required event which this month challenges us to make a mushroom soup or salad. I never liked mushroom as a child and never was swayed by the claim that they are meat for vegetarians. I don’t like meat and sometimes feel that the comparison is a little too close for comfort. But I have come to appreciate them more over the years. In fact, I love mushrooms in my meals, but still have reservations about eating them solo.
There is another reason for not being able to work up a lot of enthusiasm for mushrooms, or ‘mushies’ as we often refer to them here. They don’t add much colour to a meal. In fact, too many of them can reduce the most colourful meal to a grey sludge. Grey certainly is not on the list of my favourite colours. Grey is a gloomy rainy day, grim industrial chimneys, soul-destroying high rise flats. Sure, in a salad they can retain an interesting white and black but even then they have to be mollycoddled to prevent them getting slimy. Now, I am sure many of you are protesting that they taste so good, but my reply is that food needs to look appealing to make it near your mouth, and I am sure I don’t need to remind you where mushrooms are grown.
Despite all my prejudices, I decided I was going to challenge myself to find a mushroom soup for this event. A few piqued my interest. I settled on a Mushroom Madeira Stew from the Café Flora Cookbook. The stew attracted me for two reasons: 1) it had carrots, potatoes and peas to give some relief from the grey and from the mushroom taste, and 2) I really enjoyed pairing mushrooms and sherry in quesadillas recently.
The combination of flavours in the soup is superb and I would make it again. It was a little thin for my liking and so I used the handheld blender to puree a little of it which helped thicken it. My main problem with it was the … ahem … mushrooms. I sliced them thickly and didn’t really fry them much and they were a little chunky. In future, I will slice the mushrooms more thinly and make sure they are thoroughly fried before adding the roux.
Then after we’d finished the soup, we sat down to watch Control and as I watched it I couldn’t help comparing the black and white hues to the mushrooms. I am no Anton Corbijn, but I decided it would be fun to make my photos black and white just to make a point about their colourlessness. And you know, it has convinced me that mushrooms do have a kind of bleak beauty.
Mushroom Sherry Stew
(from the Café Flora Cookbook)
- 3 tbsp oil
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- ½ tbsp salt
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 400g (2½ cups) Portobello mushrooms (or cremini or shitake or a combination), thickly sliced
- 6 cups vegetable stock, warmed
- 2 large potatoes, diced (approx 2 cups)
- 2 large carrots, diced (approx 1½ cups)
- 1 ½ cups frozen peas
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ cup dry to medium dry sherry (or Madeira or red wine)
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a small frypan and add the flour. Stir over medium high heat for a few minutes until it smells toasted and looks golden brown. Set aside (know as the roux).
Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large stockpot and fry onions with salt for about 10 minutes til soft and translucent. Add garlic and cook another minute. Add mushrooms and cook til soft and beginning to release their juices. Add the thyme, parsley, nutritional yeast, and tomato paste and cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Stir in the roux and gradually add the stock, stirring frequently, to make sure the roux is blended. Add the potatoes, carrots, peas and bay leaf. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer about 20 minutes. Add the sherry and simmer for no more than an additional 5 minutes. Remove bay leaf, add pepper and check the seasoning. Serve hot with bread or salad.
On the Stereo:
Still: Joy Division