It was the morning before we were leaving for our vacation, when I received an email from Finn Air asking if I would like to become a contributing food writer, stylist and photographer for them. I was so honored and how could I not. I accepted without even knowing what I would write about, but I was sure I would find the perfect subject since we were going back home for a three week vacation.
I knew a million of food stories and images would await me there.
When we landed in Bilbao, my parents picked us up at the airport. We hauled our bags from the terminal to where my dad had parked his car. We were tired, yet excited to be home. We couldn’t stop talking about all the things we wanted to do. Then, my dad opened the trunk of his car and suddenly, it hit me, “I must write about mushroom picking!”.
There they were, my dad’s old wellies and his wicker basket. The mushroom picking basket.
Mycology and foraging, in general, are a very important part of our food culture. It is something that my grandfather used to love to do and I remember everyone sitting around the dining room table talking about where the best spots were.
Although I have to admit I know very little about mushroom picking, I have always been fascinated by it. Spending time in the wilderness looking carefully and patiently for them, separating the good from the poisonous and enjoying the outdoors. Something so zen about it, no?
The weather had been perfect for new wild mushrooms to grow. It had rained when we first arrived, then temperatures soared. Rain, heat and humidity are essential. Some foliage must also be happening, that is why late summer is always a good time to go.
Early one morning, my dad, my sister in law, the kids and I drove to the nature preserve of Urkiola. It was a beautiful, cool morning. We hiked and let the kids play.
My dad started wandering and I followed silently. there is a lot of silence during these hikes. I found it fascinated how he knew where to look. Almost like a sixth sense about it. Must be years of experience. We also spoke to another hiker who had been there since dawn and had found some gorgeous varieties. That’s also another part of all this that I love, the camaraderie and bond that food brings to people.
I asked a million questions and my dad answered them patiently. It was wonderful to spend that time with him. I learned about the different kinds of russulas; gibelurdinak (russula virescens) and urretxak (russula grisea). So coveted.
We cooked a delicious russula and clam risotto with lots of fresh parsley, garlic and a touch of Idiazabal cheese. My brother even came to lunch and we all devoured the entire pot.
You can see more photos and read more about the mushrooms we picked on their website. Hope you like it!
Wild Mushroom and Clam Risotto
1 cup wild mushrooms, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
bunch of fresh parsley, chopped
2 Tbs olive oil
1 cup arborio rice
3 cups chicken stock (might need a bit more)
1/4 cup freshly grated Idiazabal or Parmeggiano cheese
1 lb clams, washed
1 clove garlic, minced
bunch of fresh parsley, chopped
1 Tbs olive oil
In a small pot, bring 3 cups of chicken stock to a boil.
In a large shallow pot, heat 2 Tbs of olive oil. Add the chopped mushrooms and garlic. Season with a pinch of salt. Sautee them for a couple of minutes. Add about 1 Tbs of chopped parsley. Add the rice and stir it with the mushrooms for about a minute or so until the rice starts to stick to the bottom and is well coated with the olive and flavors.
Add a little bit of the hot chicken stock and stir. When all the liquid has been absorbed, add some more stock and keep stirring. Continue like this until rice is cooked al dente and the risotto is creamy. It should take about 15-20 minutes.
In the meantime, wash the clams. Make sure all clams are closed before cooking them. Discard any open one. In a medium saucepan, heat 1 Tbs of olive oil with the minced garlic. Add the clams and the parsley. Cover the pan and let the clams open up. Should only take about 1 minute.
At this point, the risotto should be cooked. Add the clams with all their juices to the risotto and stir thoroughly so all the juice from the clams is incorporated. Add some more freshly chopped parsley and grated cheese, if desired.