Fall Foraging

Cue epic music. Cool, fall air and wild horses galloping through riverbeds. Stony mountains as a backdrop. And then, home sweet home (at least for the weekend):

This is Zuriza. And this is where a friend of mine took us for a weekend getaway. To a house that he and his father built with their bare hands, in the corner of the Spanish province Aragón.  We made the several hour journey, passing through Gipuzkoa and making the obligatory food lover's pitstops, like one for old-fashioned village bread, baked in a family basement in a wood-burning oven.

This bread, along with the olive-soaked tortas, were our nourishment as we set off on a hunt for mushrooms.  Bread, village menús, and migas (a local dish of greasy breadcrumbs) are good, but on this trip our friend's mother was determined to take us on a hunt for mushrooms.

 And so began my initation into the world of fungi foraging. 

I was first amazed at how easy it is....to find unedible mushrooms.  I marveled at the varieties we saw, crouching low to the dirt to snap a picture. Most of them, however, would send you to the hospital if you as much as tasted them.

I learned quite a lot from our guide, Tere, who you can see below doing what she did best: finding the delicious boletus edulis, the most prized mushroom in Basque country.

Her eyes seemed to be seeing a completely different landscape than ours.  Even after taking her advice to look from the bottom up, taking care in the dark, grassy spots and around certain trees, I still wasn't able to match her mushroom-finding skills. Natural, I suppose, with so many years of practice.

I contented myself with taking pictures of the sexier, more dangerous fungal finds.

The keys to identifying boletus are in the 'stump' and the underside of the cap.  There is another mushroom that likes to double as a porcini, and, you know, who wouldn't?

I personally prefer those dangerous shrooms that are happy to be themselves, like this blue-tinged beauty, below, or the bright red Super Nintendo style above.

On our trek through the mountains, we saw around 20 species of mushrooms.  As we toted home our handful of porcini, we stopped when we saw some bright orange in a grove of pine trees. And it was a smart stop...we found an abundance of níscalos, which are prized delicacies.

These bright mushrooms are easy enough even for a newbie like me to find, so we happily toted them home to prepare a mini mushroom feast. 

Níscalos are traditionally sauteed whole with garlic and parsley. Delicious, and with a crunchy, toothsome texture.  I took over the porcini duty, insisting on simply slicing them thin and searing them in a pot with olive oil and sea salt.

There's nothing better. And when you know your hands are the ones that gathered them, well, that makes them taste even more delicious.