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October 6, 2008 10:02 AM

Mad about matsutake

Posted by Nancy Leson

The French and Italians can have their stinkin' truffles. I'd much rather eat matsutake. Fond of pine and fir, this magical mushroom calls the forest floor of the Pacific Northwest home -- and calls my name loud and clear this time of year. That's because October is when Japanese chefs all over town are steeping fresh matsutake in a delicately seasoned broth, serving them with gingko nuts in a small teapotlike vessel. They call it matsutake dobin mushi. I call it an edible autumnal aromatherapy session.

But this year I decided to take my matsutake obsession a step further, so on Saturday, I pulled on my boots and did something I've often longed to do: I went matsutake hunting. And whaddaya know? I found some -- at Uwajimaya:

I cleaned these with a vegetable brush, carefully removing soil and dried needles from their undersides. Then I sliced the fabulous fungus from cap to stem and sauteed them in olive oil -- delicious served alongside a Sunday supper of roasted chicken. (Some would insist that sauteing does the delicate flavor an injustice, noting that the better way to enjoy these meaty morsels is sliced and grilled "straight up" with only a sprinkle of salt. Me? I'll take 'em any way I can get 'em.)

If you've never tasted these prized "pine mushrooms," why wait? 'Tis the (short) season, and now is the time to find them at farmers markets and supermarkets, on creative restaurant-menus and, as always, at local sushi bars. Or better yet, get out your hiking boots and hit the Cascades and Mount Rainier trails. Don't know what you're looking for and want to learn more about the magnificent matsutake? Here's an idea:

Attend the Puget Sound Mycological Society's 45th Annual Wild Mushroom Exhibit -- set for October 11th (noon till 7 p.m.) and 12th (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) at the UW Botanical Gardens Center for Urban Horticulture. Mushroom experts will be on hand to answer your questions.

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