Today’s Wild Mushroom Cream Sauce comes with a message. A little while back, the people at Green Peace reached out about a project they were undertaking with a Yukon chef by the name of Michele Genest. The project would take the form of a cookbook to raise awareness for the Boreal Forest. I chose to volunteer my talents to the initiative because preserving biodiversity in the natural world is something near and dear to my heart. Enjoying a wide variety of flavors and textures is a privilege that I believe is worth guarding. If you’d rather not read on, no sweat! But take this as a fair warning: there will be some mild tree hugging and fuzzy fungi
If you’ve read this blog before, I don’t think you could accuse it of being overly serious. To call it ‘silly’ would not be a stretch. As a person who relishes the little, delicious and fleeting moments in life, I do tend to keep things light. There is enough heaviness in the world that I believe the act of pointing out the wonderful and the fun to be the greater service. But there are things I am earnest about. Things I worry about in particular at this time of year when tradition is everywhere.
Growing up, I was extremely protective of the holiday season. I loved our family’s traditions so dearly that the season was practically choreographed under my (creepy) watchful gaze. The music, decorations, and menu never changed. I think this was my way of holding onto my past. From a very early age, I worried about time passing me by. Losing my childhood before I had time to acknowledge its existence. Yeah, I was an intense kid. So, I could not imagine having to tell this, let’s face it, unhinged child, that she could not have her usual Christmas Eve meal because entire portions of it no longer existed. You would not want to see that tantrum, believe me.
But we are getting closer to this hypothetical becoming a reality. In 2015 the UN released a damning report on the state of the earth’s climate and predicted that parts of the world would experience food shortages as early as 2050. Now, setting aside the obvious and more pressing issues surrounding the survival of large portions of the earth’s population, there is also the fear of losing identity as ingredients central to age-old cultures recede into history. Climate change and the science associated with it is difficult to digest. But putting a human face on it and reminding ourselves of our place in the world’s larger food chain makes it a little more personal.
This is why I decided to use my little soapbox here to throw some support behind Green Peace’s Boreal Forest initiative. Green Peace teamed up with Yukon chef Michele Genest a.k.a. The Boreal Gourmet to create a sort of Boreal Forest cookbook. This collection of delicious recipes uses ingredients foraged from Canada’s Boreal Forest and brings them to your kitchen. This project seeks to connect people with the Boreal Forest. And it is also a reminder that we engage and rely on the natural world on a daily basis.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, I feel I should explain exactly what the Boreal Forest is. Well, the short answer to that is it is the forested area located in the Boreal Zone. You’re welcome. No, I’m just kidding, I will explain what the Boreal Zone is. The Boreal Zone is a stretch of land that lies between the tundra of the Arctic zone and the temperate zone of Southern Canada. It is circumpolar, which means it circles the Northern Hemisphere creating a ring around the North Pole. The Boreal Zone stretches across parts of Canada, the US, Norway, Sweden, Russia
The Boreal Forest itself accounts for 14% of the Earth’s land and 33% of the Earth’s forested land. It is home to more 20,000 species including 150 varieties of birds, numerous mammals and countless strains of microorganisms and fungi. I guess you saw the fungi coming given today’s Wild Mushroom Cream Sauce.
Canada holds 75% of forest and wetlands found in the Boreal Zone and over 70% of the country’s aboriginal population call it home. In preserving this special swath of land, that stretches from the Yukon across Northern BC out to Newfoundland & Labrador, we are not only conserving the natural world but also protecting the cultural and commercial practices of these largely rural communities.
Foraging and knowledge of the forest are skills worth preserving. Not only do they produce delicious dishes like today’s Wild Mushroom Cream Sauce, they are also tools of economic and cultural empowerment. Many communities depend on the bounty of the Boreal Forest. And we all benefit from the deliciousness that comes from healthy biodiversity.
Okay, now I will put my soapbox away and leave you with Michele Genest’s recipe for this delicious Wild Mushroom Cream Sauce. And if you would like to learn more about The Boreal Food campaign, giv this link a click. There you will find all the Boreal Forest-inspired recipes and their companion videos.
Wild Mushroom Cream Sauce
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 cups Mixed Wild Mushrooms sliced
- 14 (0.5 oz) grams dried morels
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1/4 cup cognac
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 250 (8.8 oz) grams casarecce uncooked
- 1/4 cup fresh basil chiffonade
- 1 handful sunflower sprouts
- Place the dried morels in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let sit for 30 minutes. Drain and squeeze the excess moisture from the mushrooms. Set aside.Place the butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Melt the butter until frothy. Add the fresh and rehydrated mushrooms and saute until amber in color, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and saute until fragrant about 2-3 minutes more. Add a sprinkle of salt and the soy sauce to the mushrooms followed by the cognac. Simmer over low until the cognac is reduced by half. Pour in the cream and simmer for 5-7 minutes or until thickened. Make sure it doesn’t boil over. Remove the sauce from the heat and keep warm until ready to serve.While the sauce is cooking, place a large pot of water over high heat. Once the water comes to a rolling boil, season liberally with salt. Add the pasta and cook according to the package’s directions. Drain the pasta, retaining a 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. Add the pasta to the skillet with the sauce and place the lot over low heat. Toss to coat the pasta, adding a little of the reserved pasta water to achieve your desired consistency.Remove the skillet from the heat and sprinkle with fresh basil. Divide amongst four bowls and serve immediately. I also added sunflower sprouts but they are optional.