I have been a good forager (or, if you will, scrounger) since an early age, impressing my fellow elementary schoolers with my ability to identify (and consume) onion grass on the playground. Or perhaps they weren't really all that impressed. Regardless, I love me a good free-growing meal. And such meals are easy to find here in Oregon, where persimmons, pears, figs and grapes can all be found within a single city block. But I must make a confession: when it comes to mushrooms, I stick to the markets.
I know, I know, that identifying mushrooms can be safely done with a wee bit of training, and a false morel doesn't really look much like its non-toxic cousin. But still. It'd be hard to tell the difference between the I-just-poisoned-myself-with-toxic-mushrooms stomachache, and the I'm-nervous-that-I-just-poisoned-myself-with-toxic-mushrooms stomachache. As someone who manages to spectacularly injure herself on a fairly regular basis (and is still waiting out the scabs from steering a bicycle directly into the lightrail tracks), I'm content to sacrifice my Northwesty cred and forgo the mushroom foraging trips. Which is something of a bummer, as I do love mushrooms. Well, mostly I love chanterelles.
These trumpet-shaped golden mushrooms are Oregon's crowning glory, poking through the pine needles as the rains roll in. But luckily, even at the grocery store they're not prohibitively expensive, especially now during high season. And a little goes a long way. Especially when you stir them into a rich autumn chowder.
This chanterelle chowder is fall perfection. Just a simple base of leeks and fennel, with a shot of booze and thyme and comforting glug of cream. But mostly, it's all about the chanterelles. And they do not disappoint. Meaty and rich, yet delicately tender. Even if you didn't pick them yourself.
And speaking of harvesting the fruits of the Northwest, I recently looked into the agricultural labor shortages that have been plaguing the region (and the country). You can hear my story about Northwest pears harvesters over at NPR.
Inspired by the chanterelle chowder with bacon and corn on Not Without Salt, but, as you can tell by the absence of two of the three titular ingredients, tweaked a good bit.
2 tablespoons butter
1 large leek, sliced and washed
1 bulb fennel, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1 scant teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
~2 cups chanterelle mushrooms, cleaned and torn into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup sherry or white wine
2 1/2 cups broth
1 large yellow potato, cut into a 1/2-inch dice (swapping celery root would also be nice)
3/4 cup cream
salt and pepperfresh lemon juice and fresh dill fronds for serving
Turn up the heat to medium-high, and add the thyme and chanterelle. Cook until the liquid comes out and cooks off, and the mushrooms caramelize in parts, ~5-7 minutes. Add the sherry or wine, simmer a minute to cook off the alcohol, then add the stock and potato. Bring to a simmer, and cook until the potatoes are tender, ~15 minutes.
When the soup is done, add the cream, let heat through, and turn off the heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve, topping each portion with a squeeze of lemon to brighten the flavors, and a few fronds of fresh dill.