Sunday saw the small but perfectly formed farmers’ market in Dolgellau and – by strange coincidence, ho ho – the gathering of our wool-spinning group, the Sunday Market Spinners. We’re a motley band but the first thing most of us do is hit the market; only then do we return to our woolly group and get on with nattering, fondling fibre and solving each others’ gardening dilemmas.
The market happens on the third Sunday of each month, except in January and February when the risk of frostbite is just too high. There are regulars selling everything from plants to vegetables, mutton to eggs, chocolate to goats’ cheeses, and the stallholders also usually include a beekeeper, a wonderful Kurdish baker and a smokery. Occasionally there are surprises, and they are really worth looking out for – and they are also one of the reasons why it’s a good idea to hit the market before hitting the spinning wheels.
On Sunday I had a shock while passing the Wildlife Trust’s stall. There, quietly and discreetly, partly sheltered behind some herb plants, were two tubs of chanterelles.
I have a favourite foraging spot for chanterelles, but there haven’t been many this year – either that or the people staying on the nearby campsite have wised up – and even on a good year, supplies are limited. So stumbling upon these was wonderful: no clambering around in dripping woods, no sliding down muddy paths and dropping my finds in a stream, no unfortunate encounters with sylvan dog toilets. But I haven’t got a lot. So what to do with them? There aren’t enough for Antonio Carluccio’s wonderful cantarelli in salsina – with shallots and a simple creamy sauce – but I could serve them with pasta. Or I could mix them with other mushrooms, perhaps cook them off with onions, lemon juice and a little cayenne, serve on toasted sourdough. Nah – I’d miss the delicate taste, and I fancy my wild delights as the hero ingredients.
I know – girolles à la forestière. A traditional French recipe, adapted by Jane Grigson in Mushroom Feast and then by Roger Phillips in the wonderful (if patchily edited – missing ingredients, missing quantities) Wild Food. And I’ll have to adapt it again, heavily, to suit the fact that – strangely – I haven’t got a kilo and a half of the mushrooms and I also want to use less fat. However, it’s perfect for me because I have some good bacon to hand (we do excellent butchers round here) and I’ve a great crop of potatoes, La Ratte – perfect for this recipe. In the event, my adaptation was even more significant because my chanterelles just didn’t give off the reported amount of liquid.
Girolles à la forestière – de ma façon
250g new potatoes
1 tbsp olive oil or a sliver of butter
4 rashers of good back bacon, chopped into strips
a sprig of thyme
salt and black pepper
Carefully clean the chanterelles, brushing off any flecks of soil. Trim the ends of the stalks and chop any particularly large ones in half. Put the potatoes into a pan of cold water and bring it to the boil. Cook the potatoes until they are just done – test them while they are cooking and take them off the heat as soon as they are ready. Drain and set aside, then chop them into smaller pieces (to match the size of the chanterelles) as soon as they are cool enough to handle.
Put the oil in a non-stick pan or large frying pan and cook the mushrooms over a medium heat for five minutes or so, stirring all the while, until they are just beginning to colour. Drain off any liquid and set the mushrooms aside. Increase the heat a little and put the bacon in the pan. Cook it for 5 minutes, until it too begins to colour and give off fat (if there is a lot, drain some of it off). Add the potatoes to the pan and turn them over in the bacon fat. Allow them to brown a little, stirring again – this will probably take another 5 minutes – then return the chanterelles to the pan and scatter the leaves from the sprig of thyme over the potato, mushroom and bacon. Cook everything together for a couple more minutes, stirring, then season with salt and black pepper and serve immediately.
Serving: lovely with a green salad and a chunk of good bread. And a glass of something!
And now I need to get my boots and my stick and my basket. Because the man on the stall said there were lots of ceps around, and I think I know where he’s found them…