Taste of fall: Roasted mushrooms and Lambrusco secco

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Q: Can you recommend an autumn appetizer and drink pairing?

A: Even though summer has not quite ended, I'm already mourning the end of tomato season and the sheer bounty of produce available at the market. But the beauty of the Hudson Valley is its variety. A new crop is almost in bloom.

Italians have a love of mushrooms. They have for generations. During autumn in Emilia-Romagna and Piemonte, local gatherers and foragers scour the alpine valleys picking edible fungi with a Zen-like deliberateness. Markets in Emilia-Romagna display baskets upon baskets of hundreds of varieties of mushroom from porcini to morels to chanterelles.

You would be less likely to find shiitake in Bologna's Mercato di Mezzo. The second most commonly cultivated edible mushroom variety in the world, the shiitake is native to Asia; it has grown in Japan and China since before the Common Era.

Shiitake mushrooms are revered for their immune-boosting and cholesterol-lowering properties and have been used medicinally for centuries. They are also subtle in taste, with the heartiness of meat but the lightness of an antipasto. In the recipe below, substitute any wild mushroom available at market. I also like oyster and porcini.

Despite Julia Child's decree that mushrooms must always be cooked in butter, I use olive oil and slowly roast the shiitake to tease out their woodiness. (Mind you, Julia Child and I often differ on our lipid of choice.)

The cool, crisp autumn air summons the warm umami flavor of roasted mushrooms. Contrast it with stinging cold Lambrusco secco. That's not the pervasive sweet red wine of the 1980s but rather the dry sparkling wine prized in Emilia-Romagna. The cold wine complements the incoming cold of the season. It's everything right about fall.

This is the perfect dish for a part-time vegetarian or Meatless Monday devotee. (I happen to know a few.) The woodiness of roasted mushrooms and herbs is a realization of the autumn season.

Cool Roasted Shiitake with Barbecued Onions and Basil Oil

From "The Babbo Cookbook" by Mario Batali (Clarkson Potter, 2002)

Serves 4.

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

10 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped

1 sprig of fresh rosemary, leaves finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, 2 finely chopped and 2 thinly sliced

1 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems removed

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon anchovy paste

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

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