Thursday, October 21, 2010

Spanish Mushrooms and Wine

Three years ago I walked the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrim's road across northern Spain to the city of Santiago de Compostela. When I was walking through the wine growing regions of Navarra and Rioja, I witnessed the autumn colors of orange, red, and yellow erupt on grapevines that swept across vast fields like Zeus' fiery chariot.

In that cooling season, I also saw local mushroom enthusiasts use the Road to get to their favorite stretch of forest and return to their villages with beautiful baskets full of wild mushrooms.

One man in Rioja, near the monasteries of Suso and Yuso in San Millan de Cogolla, had gone mushroom hunting early in the morning and crossed my path with a basket full of just enough mushrooms to make a lunch of scrambled eggs and mushrooms, which he would likely drink with a red wine from the nearby winery, Bodegas David Moreno.

I liked the fact that he wasn't greedy; he gathered only enough mushrooms for the day's culinary adventures. I imagined that a part of cooking for him was the outdoor exhilaration of gathering his ingredients from the wild as well as from his own kitchen garden.

This recipe is dedicated to his local spirit of the pilgrim's road as well as to American friends who are vegetarians but want to sample the best of Spanish flavors.

Spanish-seasoned vegetarian mushroom wontons

1 package soft tofu (14 oz.),
   mashed to the consistency of scrambled eggs
   (use a fork, potato mashers or clean hands)
5 oz. baby bella mushrooms, finely minced
5 oz. shitake mushrooms, finely minced
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro parsley
1 teaspoon grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon Spanish picante pimentón
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Salt and ground pepper to taste (keep in mind that
   the soy sauce adds salt)
1 package wonton skins 
Mix all the ingredients well in a bowl. Take a wonton skin and brush it lightly with water. Take a teaspoon full of the tofu mix and place it in the center of a wonton skin on the side you've just brushed. Fold up the corners to the middle and press all four together at the center. Then align the neighboring edges of the wonton and press them to seal the mix in, giving the overall shape of a diamond-shaped Japanese lantern. Steam the wontons in either bamboo steamers or simply fill a shallow pan with water and a little canola oil and set the wontons into it and cover with a lid. When the skins change from opaque to transparent, gently remove the wonton and set it on a towel to soak up additional water. Make the dipping sauce, below. Place the dipping sauce in a small bowl in the center of a large platter strewn with unchopped chive stalks and arrange the steamed wontons around the bowl on the plate.

Dipping Sauce Ingredients:
1/8 cup soy sauce
1/8 cup water
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon grated ginger
1/4 teaspoon garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon minced chives
A splash of Chinese hot sauce

A Quick Note on Pimentón

My favorite Spanish seasoning, pimentón, turns vegetarian dishes into meaty, robust experiences. This is how my wontons here take on a more complex, rich texture and flavor even when they are made with tofu, instead of ground pork. Pimentón is a red pepper that is specially dried in smokehouses. There are three types, derived from three types of red peppers: dulce (sweet, the closest to Hungarian paprika but with a bit more bite); agridulce (bittersweet); and picante (spicy hot). I like to play with all three, sometimes even mixing them in the same recipe. This recipe uses the picante variety but sparingly enough so as not to overwhelm the dish or the palettes of pepper-sensitive friends.

Suggested Wine Pairing

Mushrooms are so much a part of the terroir in Rioja, and this recipe inspired by a Riojan mushroom hunter, that I strongly recommend a red Rioja Crianza, the most likely vintage locals would imbibe with their shrooms. 
Crianza refers to the aging of wine, where the wine is at least two years old and 12 months of that two years has to have been in an oak barrel, either American or French oak or both. (White and rosé crianzas are aged for six months in a barrel.)

Reserva and Gran Reserva are the next notches up in the aging process. Reserva reds are at least three years old and have been aged for 12 months in an oak barrel. (White reservas must be at least two years old, with six months spent in a barrel.) Gran reserva reds must spend two years aging in an oak barrel and another three years in bottles. (Gran reserva whites must be four years old and spend six months of those four years in an oak barrel.)

For this recipe, the red Crianza has developed enough character and oak to match nicely with the earth-bound mushrooms but hold enough youth to add a nice light zing. Riojan wines in general have a nice earth-mineral taste with their fruit, a nice dance partner for mushrooms, as well as the nutty sesame oil.

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