20 September 2014

Cauliflower fungi

Cauliflower fungus  (sparassis crispa)

One of the most unusual looking of edible mushrooms is the cauliflower fungus (sparassis crispa). When you see one, you understand how apt the name is (at least in terms of appearance, not taste!) Cauliflower fungi are usually found at the base of mature pine trees, and tend to grow in the same place year after year (although in some years they do not appear). I have never found one in the same place twice in the same season, so I assume they only fruit once a year.

Out mushrooming today, we checked a spot where I have found cauliflower mushrooms many times over the last dozen or so years, trying to remember the exact tree under which we have found them before, when suddenly there one was - a perfect specimen nestling amongst the pine needles at the base of a large Scots pine. It was hard not to give out a yelp of pleasure. In fact my mum did.

The cauliflower fungus has a good mushroomy flavour, with a hint of woodland to it. It can be full of pine needles and leaf mould, which can be a bit of a pain to clean out. The result is well worth the effort though. To clean, break the cauliflower fungus into florets, as you would an actual cauliflower.  Pine needles and larger pieces of leaf mould can usually be picked out by hand or with the aid of a dry pastry brush. Any smaller bits of dirt can be got out under gently running water. Allow the pieces to drain in a colander, and gently dry with kitchen paper. If the base of the mushroom is very dirty, I usually discard it.

When I find a cauliflower fungus, one of my favourite things to do with it is to make a warm salad. Cauliflower fungus works surprisingly well with lettuce and raw spinach, and the whole salad has a fresh yet autumnal taste that reminds me of the woodlands where the mushroom came from.

First, wash and dry some lettuce and young spinach leaves. You could add a few other leaves too -  baby beetroot leaves have a pleasant earthiness to them which adds to the autumnal theme.

To cook the cauliflower fungus, place a frying pan over a medium heat. When the pan has heated up, add a knob of butter. Melt the butter, but without allowing it to brown, then add the pieces of mushroom. Fry the mushroom, tossing it now and then to ensure it cooks evenly. It should cook in about five minutes. While it is cooking, add a little salt and pepper to season.

As soon as the cauliflower fungus is cooked, add it to the salad. Drizzle over a little vinaigrette and eat while warm.

cauliflower mushroom salad

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