Sunday, 2 March 2014

Spinach and Mushrooms and Bears- Oh My!

Funghi Pleurotus alla Griglia, Polenta alla Erba Ursina & Spinaci
Grilled Oyster Mushrooms, Ramp & Parmesan Polenta & Spinach

Bears!??!!?! you cry! Has he totally lost his senses now?!?! What have bears got to do with anything here anyway? I mean- there is not even any meat on the plate!

Ah, but you see, there are ramps in season- and they are the stars of this delicious dish of vegetarian goodness. You are not familiar with ramps? Oh, then you may want to scroll down a little and look at the picture of the ingredients I used to make this... Ramps are a wonderful, leafy green herb which have a mild garlic and onion type of flavor... and of course fragrance. And it is this fragrance that bears are first to smell in the Springtime, when new life begins to sprout in the woods.

And this is the reason that ramps are know as "Baer-Lauch" in Germany, or "Erba Ursina" in Italy... because it IS the bears favorite leafy green- and who could blame them for loving it?

The other ingredients, were also, lovely young and tender, large-leafed spinach, from Mrs. Wongs gardens here in Frankfurt, and some lovely oyster mushrooms which I also got from Nina at the market hall... I am so lucky to have these great suppliers here!

I decided to enjoy the mushrooms and spinach together with some polenta- always a great choice as it is so versatile. So I thought I would flavor the polenta with ramps and keep the other ingredients nice and simple in their preparation, just bring out the most of their own natural flavor and let them speak for themselves... which is maybe not always, but most usually the very best way to go.

So, first things first- the polenta! This too I kept simple- as I quite dislike the way vegetable or chicken stock is added to things as a matter of course. That may be a safe way to get good flavor into your food, it may be an easy and convenient way, and it is definitely the norm... but the thing is- everything ends up tasting the same way! If I am making a soup, or a sauce, I prefer to finely chop some carrot, celery and onion and use that as a flavor base and then let the other ingredients have a chance to maintain their own identity.

Which is why I wanted the polenta to taste of polenta. I wanted it to taste of corn, with the mild garlic and onion flavor of the ramps, a little Parmesan and nutmeg, and a drizzle of olive oil at the end. 

Enough chatter now- back to work! I brought up enough water to the boil to make my single serving, about 3 cupfuls and then added 1 cupful polenta, stirring constantly and vigorously to avoid any lumps forming. I added a little salt and pepper and stirred, grated in a little nutmeg and stirred once again and then continued to let it simmer on for the duration of the cooking time whilst I prepared the mushrooms and spinach...

To get the oyster mushrooms to become wonderfully tasty and delicious, all that I did was to place them onto a very hot grill- pan. And wait. It took a little while, but after 3-4 minutes, you will notice them beginning to shrink- this is because a lot of water is evaporating from them. Next step is to flip the mushrooms over, using a pair of tongs and to season them with plenty of salt and pepper. Do not keep moving the mushrooms as they taste better when they get slightly scorched. And don't worry about that either- there is still so much moisture in them that it will take a while for anything serious to happen.

Next- pop the well-rinsed spinach, as moist as it is, into a nonstick frying pan with just a drizzle of oil, some salt and some pepper. Put the lid on and let the spinach collapse together, then add a nice grating of nutmeg and add just 1-2 finely chopped ramp leaves, just to give it that extra bit of body.

In the meantime, the polenta had thickened up and at this point I added a little milk, just to thin it down, a bit more finely grated nutmeg and about 1 tablespoonful of grated parmesan... not too much! I reduced the heat and got back to the mushrooms to finish them off before serving... and I could hardly wait!

Not that the mushrooms were grilled and much drier, it was time to add liquid that would give them flavor, but first, I added a couple of very finely chopped ramps leaves to the pan and a very generous grind of pepper. I then added a light drizzle of olive oil and made sure that the mushrooms got coated with the ramps as well as the oil- and then after a minute or so, I squeezed in the juice of a quarter of a lime, just to bring all of those good flavors in the pan to life.

Once I had plated everything up, I added a light drizzle of olive oil to the polenta, a last grind of pepper- and that was it!

3 great individual flavors that went well together and the ramps to unite them all and make them even more special... and if it worked for me- for sure it will work for you!

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