Back in early March I told you about a meal I had at Lilian's Italian Cafe in Santa Cruz which included these amazing braised mushrooms with gorgonzola cheese. Since then I think I've mentioned numerous times that I was determined to replicate that dish at home, and look! it only took me 2 months! I honestly didn't think it would take that long, but I so wanted to get these flavors just right.
I'm happy to report that I think I've successfully created a dish that sort of mostly approximates my idea of pretty much what the dish might have been. Sort of. Do you have any idea how hard it is to exactly remember the flavors of a dish over a 2-month period?? Not even easy.
But even so, I'm very very happy with my final version of those braised mushrooms. There are 3 important factors in elevating this dish to star status. First of all, the mushrooms cannot, I repeat, cannot be overcooked. We're going for plump, barely sauteed, yet flavorful mushrooms. The second crucial component is the braising liquid. Oh, this is where I struggled, folks. The flavors have to really shine and yet be subtle enough to play a supporting role to those mushrooms. I'm not sure if Lilian's used red or white wine, but in the end, I went with sherry. I think that sherry and mushrooms are best friends, and that really made all the difference in getting the sauce where I wanted it.
The final component is the cheese. I loved the gorgonzola cheese on the mushrooms at Lilian's, but in the end, I opted for a creamier, less sharp blue cheese from Point Reyes. Maybe I chose it because I have so many wonderful memories of that gorgeous coastal area in California, but feel free to use whatever cheese you love. Geez, even a creamy sheeps milk feta might be good here.
In the end, we thought these turned out pretty incredible. So, if you're a mushroom-lover, you might want to give 'em a try. They make an excellent starter course or a wonderful side dish to any roasted or grilled meats.
Braised Mushrooms with Herbs and Blue Cheese
A small handful of dried porcini mushrooms
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium shallot, minced
1 pound crimini mushrooms (aka baby bellas)
Salt to taste
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup dry sherry
chopped fresh herbs such as rosemary, thyme, chives and/or parsley
Crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (any blue cheese of your choice)
Bring 1 cup of water to a boil in the microwave. Throw in a handful of dried porcini mushrooms and let soak for about 30 minutes. Place a strainer over a bowl; line it with cheesecloth, a coffee filter or paper towels; and drain the mushrooms. Save the mushrooms for another use – we’re only going to be using the broth here.
Wipe the crimini mushrooms clean, trim the stems and leave the small ones whole. If you have any real large ones, they can be cut in half or quartered.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat, and add the shallot. Saute for a few minutes, until softened, and then add the fresh mushrooms. Cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms just begin to soften, about five minutes (no more).
Remove the mushrooms from the pan and add a little more olive oil if necessary. Add the garlic to the pan and sauté until fragrant. Add the sherry, the mushroom broth, a little salt and pepper and a sprinkling of the herbs to the pan. Simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes or until the liquid has reduced to about ½ cup.
Return the mushrooms to the sauce and continue to simmer a few minutes. Taste for salt and pepper and then remove the pan from the heat. Add a tablespoon of butter and stir it into the sauce.
Turn the mushrooms out onto a serving platter, pouring the sauce over the top. Sprinkle with fresh herbs and crumbled gorgonzola cheese and serve while warm.