As a lifelong lover of mushrooms, I was disappointed with myself that I only recently became acquainted with wood blewits. They have a distinctive purple hue to them that is quite eye-catching and if you didn’t know they were edible you’d probably leave them well alone for fear of being poisoned! They’re not poisonous though of course, they’re definitely edible and have a distinctive, unique flavour that’s hard to describe. I think they have a slightly floral character a little bit like lavender; my dad describes the flavour as ‘purple’. That sounds nonsensical but, honestly I have to agree with him, ‘purple’ is probably the best way to describe this flavour and I don’t think you have to be a synesthesiac to appreciate that!
Deciding what best to pair the wood blewits with was not particularly straightforward. Unlike most of the other more well known varieties of mushrooms, the blewits lack that typical earthiness that makes a mushroom go so well with strong savoury or meaty flavours. The floral notes made me think fish might be a good pairing instead of meat. If the fish was gently steamed and then finished with a drizzle of fine quality olive oil then I reckoned that would be a perfect compliment to the delicacy of the mushroom’s flavour. I then capitalised on the purpleness by adding purple potatoes to make a strikingly attractive ragout. It turned out to be excellent and I will most definitely be making this next year when the blewits come into season again.
You will need a steamer for this recipe. You can probably get a nice quality bamboo one from your local Chinese supermarket, or order one online. Make sure you get one that’s big enough to fit all of your portions of fish in a single layer, with enough space for some gaps between them.
- 2 fillets of hake (about 150g each), skin removed
- 200g wood blewit mushrooms
- 200g small purple potatoes, peeled
- 2 medium leaves of cavolo nero (or 2 handfuls of spinach), torn into large pieces
- sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- fine quality extra virgin olive oil
- 30g of unsalted butter
Firstly, set up the steamer: bring a large pot of water to boil, place the steamer on top and cover with the lid. Place the purple potatoes in a pot and cover with cold water.. Season with a generous pinch of salt and place over a medium-high heat. Bring to boil then turn down the heat and simmer gently for around 20 minutes or until they’re tender. Remove from the heat and leave to cool in the water.
Before you begin cooking the mushrooms, wait for the potatoes to finish cooking because you’re going to need the purple starchy water for the ragout. Cut the mushrooms into halves or quarters so you have pieces approximately the same size. Leave the smallest ones whole. Heat a saute pan over a medium heat and add about a teaspoon of the butter. Heat until the butter is foaming then add the mushrooms along with a pinch of salt. Toss or stir-and-fry over the heat for about a minute then add a couple of ladlefuls of the potato water, until the mushrooms are half-submerged. Partially cover with either a lid or a piece of foil, and simmer until the mushrooms are cooked; probably around 4-5 minutes. Drain in a colander when they’re done, being sure to reserve the liquid.
Place the cavolo nero into the same saute pan with a glug of extra virgin olive oil and place over a medium heat. Add a pinch of salt and saute gently for 30 seconds. Add about 200ml of water and bring to the boil. Partially cover with a lid or a piece of foil and simmer until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain in a colander.
Cut the potatoes in halves or quarters to make bite-sized pieces. To finish, add the mushrooms, cavolo nero and potatoes to the same saute pan and add a ladleful of the potato cooking water. Bring to the boil then add the butter, a little at a time, until the sauce starts to thicken and becomes glossy. If it’s too thick then add a little more of the starchy cooking water. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.
Take two pieces of baking parchment that are approximately the same size as the fillets of hake. Season the fillets of hake on both sides with sea salt and drizzle with a little olive oil. Place on the parchment, skin-side (the smoother side which had the skin on it before it was removed) up. Place in the steamer and cook for 3-4 minutes, depending on size, until just cooked through. The easiest way to check if the fish is cooked is to insert a small skewer or needle into the flesh: it’s cooked if it passes through with virtually no resistance. Serve the mushroom ragout in bowls and place the steamed fish on top, finishing with a glug of extra virgin olive oil.