Recipe: Picking caps and parasols

STOP PRESS. In the same spirit that each and every cigarette packet and American wine bottle must carry health warnings, it is not only prudent to repeat cautionary words before we print this week's column on cooking with mushrooms: it is necessary.

I wrote last week, referring to ceps, that you should not be put off by scars left by squirrels, as nibbles are a good key to a mushroom's edibility. This, in my experience, is true, but it is not conclusive. One of our leading fungi- philes, Antonio Carluccio, proprietor of Neal Street Restaurant, 26 Neal Street, London WC2 (071-836 8368), tore himself away from 200kg of porcini he had gathered in Scotland to ring with a warning. Some inedible varieties do appeal to slugs and the like.

I have also received two letters and a phone call from readers emphasising that wild mushrooms can be lethal, and should not be eaten in any circumstances unless identified. The details of what, for example, a Death Cap can do to you are very gory. Mushrooms and Other Fungi of Great Britain & Europe by Roger Phillips (Pan, pounds 12.99) says a spate of violent sickness 'is followed by an apparent recovery, when the victim may be released from hospital or think his ordeal over. Within a few days death results from kidney and liver failure.'

Seb Eden from Hove, East Sussex, has little patience for some wrong identifications. He writes of parasol mushrooms: 'You would have to be pretty stupid to confuse this handsome and delicious fungus with any harmful type.' I, for one, am too often guilty of stupidity for comfort, but Mr Eden certainly has a point. He also offers a recipe adapted from Dorothy Hartley's Food in England, the Fifties classic: 'For full expanded caps, butter a pair of saucers or plates, one on its top and one on its underside. Put seasoned parasols between and steam over a saucepan for a few minutes. Don't overcook them.'

Chong Yen-Chung of Bayswater, west London, says she prefers parasols to ceps, and finds them close in flavour to Chinese mushrooms. Her recipe, however, for 'Mock Eel' involves ceps. She adapted it from the house speciality of the Shanghai Restaurant of the Mayfair Hotel in Singapore, which she believes was recently demolished. Ms Chong, along with Mr Eden, will receive two bottles of Shaw & Smith 1991 Sauvignon Blanc.

Mock Eel

Ingredients:

8 fresh ceps (porcini)

1tsp finely diced shallots

1tsp crushed stem ginger

1tsp crushed garlic

3tsp vegetable oil

1/2 tsp sesame seed oil

2tsp soy sauce

1tsp rice wine or fino sherry

1tsp rice or wine vinegar

1tsp crushed peppercorns

1/2 tsp salt

3tsp vegetable stock

Preparation: Wipe caps clean, trim stalks and slice thinly. Heat a wok to smoking point and add 3tsp vegetable oil. Add shallots, ginger and garlic and quickly stir-fry for about 30 seconds. Do not let them burn. Add ceps and the remaining ingredients, except sesame seed oil, and stir-fry for another two to three minutes, or until the mushrooms melt. Trickle on oil and mix. Serve with chopped parsley or coriander or spring onion leaves.

Next week, the last of our mushroom recipes. Meanwhile, please send recipes for our next category, cooking with pumpkins, stating the source, if not original, to Emily Green, Recipe, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB. The prize will be two bottles of 1991 Avignonesi Bianco, from Reid Wines, near Bristol.

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