My friends Richard and Deirdre live outside London near Heathrow Airport. Apart from a few annoying planes flying over at odd hours, the setting is idyllic, with fields of wildflowers and tall grasses and trees, and a river flowing by.
A continuing project is the restoration of the old family manor, some part of which is always falling down, constantly being repaired and refurbished in their rather particular artistic style. Richard, an intrepid designer and jack-of-all-trades, is always happiest renovating. He turned their large sitting room into a spacious, tall, light-filled kitchen, the floor painstakingly covered in tiny white mosaic tiles. Elsewhere in the house, walls are rubbed with paints in hues of lime, indigo, turmeric or beet.
Deirdre, also intrepid, is known to all as a terrific cook. She is fast, organized and no-nonsense, known as much for her delicious food as for her unvarnished pronouncements and opinions.
I wanted to know about her acclaimed version of mushrooms on toast. I reached Richard by email, and he was willing to try to coax the recipe from her. “But there is no recipe!” she exclaimed. “It’s just butter and a bloody hot pan. I’m sure he knows how to fry mushrooms.”
Nonetheless, Richard persuaded Deirdre to prepare mushrooms on toast for their lunch the following day and filmed the entire procedure, sending it to me in short clips. “We haven’t got a toaster, so the toast is going to be made on the stovetop in a griddle pan,” she says. It’s clear she has no aversion to generously daubing the bread – thick slices from an Italian loaf, though she prefers a white sourdough – with olive oil, for toast that browns and crisps beautifully.
She heats a large cast-iron pan on the stovetop. “This thing doesn’t get hot enough. Richard, I know you think it does, but it doesn’t.”
She explains, “The pan must be quite hot so the mushrooms brown properly; otherwise they’ll just simmer in their own juices, and you don’t want that until they’re nearly finished.”
As the butter begins to sizzle, she commences to fry and stir the mushroom slices, tossing in another knob of butter for good measure. When they are nearly ready, a little chopped garlic and thyme are added and the heat is lowered, allowing the mushrooms to go juicy. “That’s all?” Richard asks. Deirdre sometimes adds a splash of Marsala or a little cream, but not today.
Warm plates, warm toast. The steaming mushrooms are spooned over them, and lunch is ready.
And to Drink …
The best wine with this tangy, rich mushroom dish simply depends on your mood. If you prefer a white, you have options: A good Chablis, a restrained Sancerre or even a young Champagne dominated by chardonnay would all complement the fresh, herbal components of this dish. Or, if you are feeling flush, you could try an older Champagne or a Meursault with a little age, which would go well with the richer mushroom flavors. If a red feels right, you have a similar choice: A good young Loire red, made with the cabernet franc grape, would be delicious, but so would a nebbiolo wine from the Piedmont region of Italy, or even an easygoing red Burgundy. If you’re feeling bold, try a sherry: You will not go wrong with an Amontillado.
– ERIC ASIMOV
Mushrooms on Toast
Total time: 20 minutes; yield: 2 servings
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, more as needed
1 pound thinly sliced portobello or cremini mushrooms
1 teaspoon chopped thyme
2 small garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper
Splash of sherry or Marsala (optional)
1/4 cup crème fraîche
2 thick slices country bread, for toasting
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1. Heat a wide skillet over high heat and add butter, swirling pan. When butter begins to sizzle, add mushrooms and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes.
2. Add thyme and garlic, and stir to coat. Season well with salt and pepper and continue to sauté for a minute more, then add sherry, if using. Add crème fraîche and let mixture simmer 2 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, toast bread slices until golden. Lightly butter them and place on individual warm plates.
4. Spoon mushrooms and juices over toasted bread. Top with chopped parsley.