The earthy, flavourful mushroom plays an important role in both Western and Eastern cuisines. The mushroom is filled with what Chinese chefs call Xian and what Westerners have come to call Umami, thanks to the work of a Japanese scientists. Call it Umami or Xian, this fifth taste is savoury and often described as ‘meaty’, sometimes with a touch of sweet but definitely one associated with proteins. Unlike sweet, salty, sour, bitter and spicy it’s not easily categorized. But Western and Eastern foodies agree that this earthy taste is addictive and as the word Xian indicates; a fresh flavor having tastes of both the land and the sea. When you enjoy this dish, you are indulging in the ‘fifth taste’ much longed for in Eastern and Western cuisines.
The recipe below was originally conceived with the white St. George’s mushroom in mind. The St. George’s mushroom is a wild edible fungus that appears in the spring. But if you cannot easily find the St. George variety the recipe will work equally well with Cremini or Button mushrooms, all will deliver a big hit of savoury richness.
Here the mushrooms are scented with fragrant basil, rosemary, and mint, these refreshing bites get an unexpected twist with salmon roe/salmon caviar and the crunch of almonds add a multi-dimensional texture.
Ingredients (serves 2):
11 oz fresh mushrooms, (300g)
2 Tablespoons pine nuts (8.44g)
¼ Cup fresh rosemary leaves removed from stalks (6.02)
½ Cup fresh basil leaves (12 g)
½ Cup fresh mint leaves (12 g)
1 Tablespoon olive oil (13.3 g)
½ Teaspoon salt (3 g)
2 Tablespoons salmon roe caviar (in Japanese stores you will find as: Ikura) (20g)
2 tbsp chopped roasted almonds (for garnish) (16.2g)
the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit (140 degrees Celsius).
For the ‘pesto’: place pine nuts in a dry (don’t add oil) frying pan large enough to hold them in one layer. With heat at medium-low and stirring constantly cook until fragrant and golden brown. It’s important to keep them moving and when they are golden immediately transfer to a plate to stop the cooking/prevent burning.
Rinse and dry the rosemary, basil, and mint leaves. Combine the herbs and cooled pine nuts in a blender with the olive oil and salt, blending until smooth. Alternately use your mortar and pestle.
Clean the mushrooms, see note below for cleaning. For this recipe do not remove complete stem just clean stem by cutting off the very bottom.
Place the mushrooms in an oven-safe dish and bake for 10 minutes.
Remove mushrooms from oven, transfer to a serving dish and top with the pesto. Garnish with salmon roe and sprinkle with chopped almonds.
Small amounts of pesto can be difficult to blend using a food processor or blender. For this small amount you can use the traditional method of a mortar and pestle instead.
About cleaning mushrooms: Never soak mushrooms in water, they will get waterlogged! The very best way to clean fresh mushrooms is to use a damp paper towel or a soft mushroom brush to wipe each mushroom, one at a time, removing any dirt. You can lightly rinse mushrooms with cool water and pat dry but remember mushrooms absorb water like sponges and you do not want watery mushrooms.