The juicy mushroom is a favourite of Gemma Simmonite, of Gastrono-me in Bury St Edmunds. As well as being a superfood, it’s also very versatile and the key ingredient of one of her restaurant’s oldest dishes
One of the oldest dishes at Gastrono-me is our mushrooms on toast. It’s delicious, familiar and I chose it for this month’s column because it can be recreated from home so easily.
I absolutely adore mushrooms, and as a vegetarian before Quorn and/or other meat substitutes came about, mushrooms were the only way you could ensure a bit of substance and, dare I say, meatiness in your dish. We still use this principal now as a base for our Hallouminati Burger at Gastrono-me – a large field garlic baked mushroom, drenched in homemade pesto sauce and topped with smoky tomatoes, and of course the ever-popular griddled halloumi. This is just as popular a choice as the Vegilante burger where we use a plant-based patty – both are completely delicious – but with my love for all things fungi I plump for the juicy mushroom one every time.
They truly are a superfood – fast and easy to cook, low in calories and fat-free, naturally low in sodium and laden with vitamins and antioxidants. If you think about it as well, they’re completely versatile, as they adapt themselves to practically every cuisine on the planet. So, if you have mushrooms in your fridge, you’re three quarters of the way there on a satisfying supper.
Garlic is of course the mushroom’s natural ally; they just naturally go hand in hand. Something about the mushrooms' natural ‘boskiness’ and the pungent aroma of garlic is just kismet. Mike (Mr Gastrono-me) and I used to frequent a seafront family-run Italian restaurant in Cardiff many years ago and Mike, without fail, would always order the mushrooms in garlic butter. They came sizzling to the table, parsley covered and with bread to dip into the delicious juices – simplicity itself but can still make Mike go misty eyed in hungry nostalgia.
I suppose it was with this memory that when creating our very first menu for Gastrono-me, I knew I wanted a mushroom dish to be included. In those days it was still fairly rare to go out for breakfast, which is why I was so determined to hook into that mealtime – for me it was fairly untapped and we were fairly unknown, so I thought it was a good marriage. I sought inspiration from many places but kept coming back (and still do) to Australia’s café culture – something about the light, their breeziness, the climate, and the personality of the country just says breakfast to me. They’re utterly casual as a nation, and that laid-back honesty is at the heart of a relaxed breakfast and brunch.
The great Australian chef, writer and restaurateur Bill Granger of Granger & Co fame had a mushrooms on toast recipe in one of his cookbooks I owned. It was the nucleus of the idea – his was with ricotta and lemon, perfect for a sun-drenched morning in Melbourne, but I wanted a ‘mushroomy’ dish that would reflect a drizzly day in Bury St Edmunds as well. So, I set about creating a Gastrono-me mushrooms on toast. I knew I wanted spinach included – my family are now used to my quirk of putting spinach in everything (the name Popeye has been cruelly bandied about more than once!) I am also a cheese fiend, so wanted a meltiness to come through the mushrooms – I tried a few different options –mozzarella gave a great melt but a bit too bland, gruyere a little too sweet, brie was a little too cloying. But taleggio, a cow’s milk washed rind cheese was perfect. It’s quite mellow but still flavoursome, it has a hint of nuttiness, and melts like a dream, which was just what I wanted to create. The mushroom blend we use is chestnut and shiitake, and we sauté them in butter, or if for a vegan meal in olive oil (obviously minus the taleggio, too). Seasoning is key, and then we finish them off with a drizzle of garlic oil, and that is literally all they require, such is the natural beauty of the dish.
I hope you enjoy making them as much as we do. As always, I encourage you to play around with what you fancy. There are some super mushroom varieties in the supermarkets which are worth experimenting with, the spinach could be swapped out for smashed avocado, or sautéed kale, and I’ve recently been experimenting with different vegan cheeses – Violife’s Creamy with garlic & herbs slathered onto the toast before piling on the mushrooms works a treat.
Keep being safe, keep being optimistic, and may I take the chance to say a huge thank you to all our Gastrono-me customers and friends – you’re constant loyalty and warmth is incredible, we have been truly overwhelmed and humbled by your support and custom since July 4th. We promise to keep working hard to feed you all, and to always make you feel that you just came home.
MUSHROOMS ON TOAST
Prep 10 mins
Cook 10 mins
4 large slices of rustic bread
30g of butter/if vegan 1 tbsp of olive oil
350g mixed mushrooms sliced
200g baby spinach
Salt and pepper
Heat a frying pan with butter/oil, whichever is your preference, and warm. Then add the mushrooms. Cook for 3-5 minutes until they are just cooked – you want them still to have bite and not release too many of their juices or go slimy. Season well with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, toast your bread and butter it, if vegan, drizzle with some of the garlic oil. Slice in half and arrange on the plate.
Once your mushrooms are cooked, move them to a separate plate and quickly sauté the spinach for a few seconds on a high heat in the leftover mushroom juices, don’t let the spinach wilt completely as we will be whizzing in the microwave briefly. Remove the spinach from the pan and arrange on top of the toast.
Tear the taleggio into bite-size pieces and nestle them in the spinach, this will make the end result more effective when melting.
Now top the spinach and toast with the cooked mushrooms, and heat in the microwave on high for one minute or until warmed through.
To finish, drizzle with garlic oil and another grind of black pepper.
Gemma is executive chef and co-creator of Gastrono-me, Abbeygate Street, Bury St Edmunds
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