Monday, 22 October 2012

If You Go Down to the Woods Today...

Couscous con Lenticchie Rosse & Funghi Porcini
Couscous with Red Lentils & Porcini Mushrooms

... you may well stumble upon some beautiful porcini mushrooms like these! I didn't go down to the woods though- only as far as the indoor market! But porcini are in season over here in Europe and what can be a bigger treat than to enjoy them fresh?!!

Porcini's are probably the most flavorful and aromatic of all mushrooms, incredibly intense when dried, but wonderful and rich when they are fresh. I decided to try a slightly different approach this evening and combined them with couscous and lentils- perfect eaten hot and steaming on a cold, Autumn evening and a great alternative to the usual pasta or rice dishes.. as well as being much faster to make! 

This was very easy to make and the only ingredients I needed other than the couscous, the red lentils and of course the porcini's, were the basics of any Italian sauce or soup- a "sofritto" of celery, onion, carrot and a little garlic... and not very much of those either! But it's amazing how much flavor came together as if by magic! Some combinations simply WORK!

I began by chopping the ingredients of the sofritto as finely as possible and sautéing them in a little olive oil, along with one of the mushrooms which I also chopped- this would be the basis of the broth I would use to make the couscous later. I made sure to give everything plenty of heat, but kept stirring it, getting everything nicely and evenly browned. Whilst it was sizzling away, I quickly chopped some parsley and plucked a little thyme and added these to the mix. I seasoned with salt, pepper and a little hint of chili and deglazed the pan with a splash of white wine. I let this reduce down until it was nearly completely evaporated and then added enough boiling water to cover all of the finely chopped ingredients and to pick up any flavors from the bottom of the pan.

I carefully poured the finished sofritto into a small saucepan, added more water and brought it back up to the boil. I added the lentils to the hot broth and gave them a stir- there should be twice as much broth as lentils. I reduced the heat to a gentle simmer and turned my attention back to the frying pan, which was back on the heat and waiting for those yummy porcini's!

Into the dry pan went the mushrooms, along with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. I stirred and tossed them around for a minute or so, in order for them to heat up and to begin to give off their juice and moisture. After a couple of minutes, they had begun to soften slightly and at this point I added a little olive oil and a hint of crushed garlic and then quickly chopped a little more parsley. I added some to the mushrooms, but also a little to the lentils, which were good to go after just 5 minutes! There was still about twice the height of broth as there was lentils and into this broth went the couscous, which I stirred in thoroughly and then set aside to fluff up whilst I finished the mushrooms.

By now the mushrooms were beginning to brown nicely and had picked up the garlic and parsley flavor and were smelling pretty terrific! I added the tiniest squeeze of lemon and a tinier pinch of sugar, tossed them once and set them aside whilst I dished-up the couscous, which was by now fluffy and perfect. In the meantime, that tiniest of pinches of sugar and the lemon had given a hint of freshness and a light caramel nuance to the earthy mushrooms... delicious! With a final sprinkle of parsley, they went perfectly with the lightly nutty flavor of the lentils and the mushroom broth infused couscous... and made for a wonderfully inexpensive and totally satisfying supper! I loved it and I sure hope you will too!

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