Fabulous fungi: Mark Hix celebrates the magic of mushrooms

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Indy Lifestyle Online

One of the best things about having a restaurant in Dorset is the access we have to all the foragers in the area. There is so much great food on our doorstep – from sea bass to all kinds of fungi, wild herbs and seashore vegetables. It's a real contrast to London, because the boys in the kitchen can actually go out and gather the stuff themselves.

I haven't actually been out mushroom picking much over the last year, and with my new restaurant in Soho opening soon, I probably won't get much of a chance during the next few weeks, so I will have to rely on The Forager Handbook (£30, Ebury Press) written by our friendly forager Miles Irving, which is the modern guide for all keen foragers. If you're a vegetarian I can really recommend a plate full of meaty wild mushrooms, especially if you're starting to develop a bit of a meat craving.

In this country, we tend to be rather shy about getting our wellies on and going out into the woods to have a good forage. But it's a great activity for all the family; just make sure that you're accompanied by someone who knows what's what on the first few occasions until you become confident about exactly what you're picking.

Cep tart

Serves 4

You can use a large variety of mushroom such as cep here or a selection – it really depends on what you have foraged or managed to get your hands on from the shops or the market.

250g butter puff pastry, rolled to one-third of a cm thick
1 egg, beaten
50g butter
2 medium shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
200-250g ceps or other wild mushrooms, cleaned
150ml double cream
1tbsp chopped parsley

Cut four rectangles from the puff pastry, about 14cm x 11cm in size. Make an incision with a ruler and the point of a knife all the way round about cm in from the edge. Prick the pastry within the incision all over with a fork to prevent it rising too much, then put the rectangles on a baking tray. Brush the edges with the beaten egg and leave to rest in the fridge for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 160C/gas mark 3. Bake the pastry for 8-10 minutes and remove from the oven. Turn the oven up to 200C/gas mark 6.

Cut the mushrooms into even-sized pieces, melt the butter in a frying pan and gently cook the shallots and garlic for 2-3 minutes until soft. Add the mushrooms and season, then turn up the heat and fry for 3-4 minutes, turning them every so often until tender.

Add the cream and parsley and simmer until the cream has thickened and is just coating the mushrooms.

To serve, carefully push the centre of the tarts (the area inside the incision you made prior to cooking) down and spoon the mushroom mixture into the tarts.

Braised wild rabbit with ceps

Serves 4

A rabbit makes a delicious and cheap autumnal meal, and, combined with some seasonal earthy mushrooms, a couple of rabbits will easily serve four people. I've used ceps here as I picked some in Norfolk a few weeks ago, but it's also easy to buy cultivated mushrooms such as oyster and blewits instead.

I don't recommend braising the rabbits' little saddle fillets with the legs – I think it's best to save them in the freezer to use in a salad. I made a great one the other day with grouse and rabbit fillets and tiny wild bilberries – or blaeberries as they call them in Scotland.

40g flour, plus more for dusting
8 rabbit legs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
6 medium shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
80g butter
100ml white wine
1 litres chicken stock, or a good-quality chicken stock cube dissolved in that amount of hot water
300g ceps or other seasonal wild mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
3tbsp double cream
2tbsp chopped parsley

Lightly season and flour the rabbit legs with a tablespoon of the flour. Heat some vegetable oil in a frying pan and lightly fry them for 2 minutes on each side without colouring them too much.

In a heavy-based saucepan, gently cook the shallots and garlic in 40g of the butter for 2-3 minutes until soft. Add the rest of the flour and stir well.

Gradually add the white wine, stirring well to avoid any lumps forming, then add the chicken stock. Bring to the boil, add the rabbit legs and lightly season. Simmer gently, covered with a lid, for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the rabbit is tender.

Meanwhile, melt the rest of the butter in a heavy frying pan and gently cook the mushrooms, seasoning them lightly, for 4-5 minutes until they soften.

Add to the rabbit legs with the cream and parsley and simmer for another 5-6 minutes.

Check the seasoning and serve the rabbit with some good mashed potato and autumnal vegetables.

Baked field mushroom with a poached duck egg

Serves 4

4 large field or Portobello mushrooms
A couple of knobs of butter, softened
4 duck eggs

For the crust

1 small onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
A couple of good knobs of butter
50-60g fresh white breadcrumbs
2tbsp chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pre heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. First make the crust: melt the butter in a pan and gently cook the onion and garlic for 2-3 minutes until soft. Remove from the heat and transfer to a food processor with the breadcrumbs and parsley. Season and blend for just a few seconds until well mixed. Place the field mushrooms on a grill tray, rub over the butter and season, then cook for about 3-4 minutes on each side. Turn the mushrooms dark side (gills up) and spoon over the crust. Bake for about 10-12 minutes or until the crust is golden. Meanwhile, poach the duck eggs and drain on kitchen paper, then place one in the centre of each mushroom and serve.

Fillet of coley with creamed oyster mushrooms

Serves 4

I've been happily promoting the use of pollack over the years but I have noticed that in Lyme Bay recently, pollack haven't been quite so prolific – perhaps they are now being over-fished due to us chefs keeping on endorsing the stuff! I've recently started using coley in our restaurants and it's a bloody good alternative to both pollack and cod.

On the subject of sustainable fishing I would highly recommend watching The End of the Line (endoftheline.com), which is a must-watch film on the decline of the fish in global waters.

4 thick fillets of coley weighing about 200g each, skinned and boned
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 medium shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped
120g butter
200-250g oyster mushrooms, halved if large
200ml double cream
1tbsp chopped parsley

Lay the coley fillets on a tray and scatter them generously with sea salt, then leave for approximately 20 minutes. Meanwhile melt about one-third of the butter in a wide thick-bottomed pan and gently cook the shallots for 2-3 minutes until soft. Add the oyster mushrooms, cover with a lid and cook on a medium heat for 4-5 minutes, stirring every so often.

Add the double cream, season and simmer until the cream has reduced and is just coating the mushrooms. Add the parsley and remove from the heat.

Rinse the coley fillets under cold water and dry them on some kitchen paper. Heat the rest of the butter in a frying pan until foaming and cook the coley fillets, non-skin side down first, for 3-4 minutes on each side, giving them a nice golden colour.

Re-heat the mushrooms (add a little water if the sauce is a bit too thick) and spoon on to plates, drain the coley on some kitchen paper and place on top of the mushrooms.

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