The woods in fall is enchanting, covered in a carpet of golden pine needles and finished leaves, crimson, orange and yellow. Everything that was once green is gone, opening up a clear view of the trees. Below the wet carpet, with it’s decaying mush of limbs, leaves and logs, thrives a web of fungus, the mycelium, that is the root system of the mushroom. While the rest of the woods settles down for it’s long winter nap, it’s spring time for the mushroom. Popping up on your lawn, under your trees, or literally squeezing out of the bark, the fast growing mushroom, which can double in size in 24 hours, appears overnight, and it’s not a pretty sight.
Take for instance the Hen of the Woods, named for it’s resemblance to the feathers of a hen, which is a huge stretch of the imagination. But what it lacks in looks, it makes up for in flavor, and when our chefs wave their magic spoons, voila, behold a puff pastry. We love our Hen. Picked locally, it’s fresh and organic. Growing on and under oaks, it’s elusive, but it’s unique shape makes it easy to identify. Mushroom Master and Mycologist, Gary Lincoff, actually finds them in Central Park. He equates foraging mushrooms to a “treasure hunt, where you can feel like a kid again and connect with nature.” Like the Big Bad Wolf in the forest, the Hen of the Woods is hard to find, lurking around trees, and when the forager, a determind hunter with a basket, finally finds one, he skips for joy like a girl in a red cape.
We use it in our goat cheese duxelles, or on top of a pizza with sherry reduction sauce, fontina and crispy pancetta. It’s hearty flavor is perfect with a pork loin. Besides it’s wonderful flavor, it’s great for the immune system, has cancer fighting qualities, is loaded with potassium, and is good for your blood pressure. The veal tenderloin medallions with sauteed hen of the woods mushrooms, and a mustard and brandy cream sauce over pappardelle pasta will extend your life. We love the hen of the woods pate with goat cheese on top of a crostini. So come forage our special’s menu at Cibo Matto where we get down and dirty with the mushroom. Go to our facebook page for nightly specials.