Monday, August 02, 2004

Zen and the Art of Mushrooms

For Pukka, so he can stop confusing me with Morgan Webb:

I made pasta for dinner tonight, and we had some mushrooms in the frig so I used them in the sauce. It took me a long time to learn how to cook fresh mushrooms. Growing up we always used canned, but when I got out on my own, I figured they couldn't be that much different than any other vegetable.

I'd put a little oil in the pan, some onion, garlic, what-have-you, and then I'd toss in the 'shrooms. Stir them about for a bit and all was good. But then I'd get distracted by something, and when I turned back around, everything was sticking. Panicked, I'd add more oil. It would disappear. I'd add more. God only knows how many gallons of oil I've used this way in my lifetime, the mushrooms absorbing every drop. Finally everything would stop sticking, and devolve into a soupy mess. Ugh! I'm surprised I didn't give up completely.

Tonight I put a little oil in the pan, added some onion, garlic, and threw in the 'shrooms. Tossed them about for a bit and all was good. Then came the distraction (getting the water for the pasta started boiling), and sure enough, when I turned around, everything was sticking.

But now I know better. I resist the urge to combat the sticking with oil, and work harder at stirring. If it gets really, really bad, I add just a touch of water to get things moving around again. I remind myself that patience is a virtue. And sure enough, when I remember to wait and to trust, the mushrooms and I work through this phase together, and suddenly the sticking stops.

Now I know from experience that I can either take the mushrooms as they are at this moment, still a little firm, still recognizable. Or I can push them further. They'll suddenly release all of their moisture, infused with all of the flavor they've absorbed from the garlic and the onion (minus the half gallon of oil I would've added in my youth). The mushrooms themselves will be rather tired after this experience, but the liquid can be reduced down to essential, earthy flavors that are really powerful.

Tonight I decided to take them young and al dente, forgetting I had meatballs for tooth. Oh well, supper's never perfect around here. But at least the mushrooms and I have reached a truce. Somewhere in all this, I feel a lesson teasing the edges of my mind. But I have no idea what that might be. Guess that means it's time for bed. G'night.