Growing up, I thought I didn’t like mushrooms. They don’t agree with my dad, so we almost never had them. I think my father actually does like them, but when I was little and knew he didn’t eat them I assumed it was a taste issue and decided that if he didn’t like them they obviously must be gross. I had the occasional bite of a grilled portobello cap when my sister was a vegetarian, and those didn’t do much to change my mind. Beyond that, I lived a pretty mushroom free existence until about 4 years ago, when I lifted my ban and let my then-boyfriend start adding them to risottos.
I was surprised by how much I liked them–the meaty texture, and the way they soaked up whatever tasty thing they were covered with. And now, they’re one of my favorite vegetables. One of the restaurant dishes in my neighborhood that I crave most often is a mini mushroom toast, I can rarely resist a creamy pasta sauce with mushrooms, and I love the retro appeal of a stuffed mushroom cap for an easy finger food. But my favorite is Smitten Kitchen’s mushroom bourgignon, the first mushroom dish I made myself.
I first made it in January of 2009, after exploring my favorite food blogs for a comfort food-y recipe to make in the dutch oven I’d been given for Christmas. As ever, Smitten Kitchen’s pictures and prose made the recipe look delicious, and I remember reading it at work and thinking, this is so what I’m making for dinner tonight. It was the perfect first foray into mushroom cooking, especially so early in my learning to like them. The sauce really does mimic the flavors of traditional boeuf bourguignon and the steps that get you there use my favorite kind of cooking alchemy–simple ingredients combining in easy ways to become something that seems much more complex. The process, all chopping and simmering and stirring, is so satisfying, and once the butter and flour mixture is added the broth thickens and becomes silky and a bit shiny. The whole dish looks more rich, and it’s just fun to watch it happen.
Do you remember the scene from the Julie & Julia movie where Amy Adams’ character is thrilled by the revelation that the secret to beautifully browned mushrooms is not to crowd the pan? “Don’t crowd the mushrooms!” Well, let me tell you something–I crowd the heck out of these mushrooms, and I don’t think it matters. I do it for two reasons: one, it’s so much easier to just chuck them all in the pan than it would be to put them in a bit at a time and saute in steps. And two…I just love using my dutch oven, and this is one of the first things I made in it. I know from previous experience that even tho things look precarious at the start of this dish–and, in fact, I did have some mushrooms flying onto the floor this time around–they’ll brown just fine, and cook down enough to fit back in with all of the other ingredients. So if you have a pot that makes you feel like domestic goddess to use, crowd away.
For the most part, I stick pretty faithfully to the Smitten Kitchen recipe. This time around I used all cremini mushrooms (Trader Joe’s pre-sliced, which made the whole thing much faster), tho I’ve previously used a combination of portobellos, button, and a random bag of fancy dried mushrooms I impulse-bought, which was delicious. I also skipped the pearl onions–I love the look, but not so much the taste–and threw in more carrots (and some frozen peas right at the end of cooking) to fill in the gap. And it all freezes beautifully, just in case you don’t feel like eating it all week long.