South Park Self

that recipe I invented for the mushroom salad thingy

We've fallen into the habit of having a larney sit-down umpteen-course formal meal for New Year's Eve, on the grounds that it gives us something to do until midnight and keeps us all awake rather effectively. Also, we cunningly construct our immediate social circle with a high preponderance of really good cooks, which adds a pleasing level of quality to the proceedings. This year was eleven of us, which is probably the outside edge of numbers for this sort of thing, and, following the traditional French 75s, featured five courses: tapas, a mushroom salad, seared Aisany salmon with noodles, beef with cauliflower, and chocolate mousse. (I made the dessert, which as an experiment featured layers of white and dark chocolate mousse, a considerable departure given my personal belief that white "chocolate" is actually a sort of sad and misplaced cheese. I feel I have grown as a person in recognising, if not actually embracing alternative creeds).

I had originally offered baked Camembert for the second course, but it seemed too heavy for (a) the amount of food we had, and (b) the weather, which has really been ridiculously hot of late. So instead I constructed a mushroom salad thingy based entirely around my new-found addiction to truffle oil, and a vague inspiration which hit during a 4am heat-stressed insomnia bout, during which I lay awake randomly thinking "truffle oil... dark leaf salad... roasted mushrooms... chevin". This was refined on the fly into a fairly cobbled-together rehash of inspiration ingredients, fragments of recipes ganked off the internet, and the last-minute inspired addition of whatever I happened to have in the cupboards and garden. There is absolutely no way in hell I am a scientific cook. I shall proceed to blog the recipe because in defiance of probability it worked really well and I'd like to remember how to do it again.

INSOMNIA MUSHROOM SALAD STARTER

You need:
  • a couple of packs of dark salad leaves - I used rocket and wild rocket, but you could also use something like baby spinach. It needs a good strong flavour to support the truffle oil. We had normal iceberg lettuce with truffle oil dressing at a restaurant recently, and it was a complete travesty.
  • a handful of spring onions
  • about half a packet of pine nuts, more if you have as much of an addiction to them as I do
  • garlic/herb chevin, as in the soft goat's cheese, enough for a medallion per person
  • a couple of packs of fancy mushrooms, I used mostly shimeji with a few shitaki, but you could equally do this with black mushrooms or portobellini or even oysters. I wouldn't use white button mushrooms, you need something with a strong flavour that takes well to roasting.
  • four heads of garlic
  • half a cup of good quality mayonnaise and a dash of cream, no more than half a cup.
  • lime juice
  • a slice of ciabatta per person
  • olive oil, butter, salt, pepper, chopped garlic


  1. The dressing: roast the heads of garlic. This entails cutting across the whole head towards the top, so the end of each clove is exposed; drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper; place cut side down on a baking sheet and roast at 160o for about 45 minutes, or until the cloves are soft. Squeeze out the softened garlic from the clove cases and mash it with a fork; add to mayonnaise, with a dash of lime juice and salt and pepper to taste. Thin with cream until it's a drizzlable consistency allowing you to do exciting nouvelle trails across the salad.
  2. The mushrooms: wash and trim mushrooms, put in roasting tray. Toss with olive oil and chopped garlic, season with salt and pepper. Roast at about 200ofor about 15 minutes, or until cooked and starting to brown. You don't want them too pale; you need the solid dose of caramelised flavour.
  3. The ciabatta: one thick slice of ciabatta per person; brush both sides with oil and a bit of garlic, sprinkle with salt, and grill to make toast.
  4. The salad: wash leaves, remove rocket stalks (I prefer the leaves without the stalks on grounds of texture and ease of eating). You'll need a handful of leaves per person. Use the equivalent of one small spring onion per person, and cut lengthways into thin strips, including some of the green end. Toast the pine nuts in butter in a frying pan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly (they burn at the drop of a hat). Make sure you do more pine nuts than you actually need, it's completely impossible to avoid snacking on them as you assemble the salad. Mix greens and spring onion strips in a large bowl; drizzle fairly generously with truffle oil (if you toss this in your hands you end up covered in truffle oil which you are then obliged to lick off, possibly with pornographic sound effects), and season to taste.
  5. Plate the buggers! You need a small plate per person. Assemble salad on one half of the plate: a handful of greens, sprinkle of pine nuts, medallion of chevin on top. Place toasted ciabatta on other half of plate, pile with generous spoonful of roasted mushrooms. Artistically drizzle the garlic mayonnaise in long trails across both the salad and the mushrooms. (I didn't quite manage that, I ran out of cream and the mayonnaise was too glodgy to trail properly).
  6. Ideally you want the mushrooms and ciabatta hot, but it's a bit of a bugger to co-ordinate; it probably works best if you make the dressing ahead of time, cook the mushrooms first, assemble the salad while they're cooking, and leave the mushroom tray in the oven for the few extra minutes while you grill the ciabatta.

I wish I'd thought to photograph the course, it actually looked rather good and seems to have gone down rather well. It was a damned fine meal and a very civilised and appropriately sybaritic way to start the new year. Also, truffle oil. Totally made it to my annual list of Things I Discovered This Year. It's a tiny, expensive, mycorrhizal god.