Written by P.E. Peepers, CNN
Just a few months ago, I experienced a culinary transformation. I got into Italian, started wearing jeans and grew my hair out. It felt like the ancient Art of Eating was making a comeback.
Eventually, I opened a pop-up restaurant serving small plates of meat-based Italian tapas to happy and curious diners. After hosting two editions at coffee and wine bar Prima Dona and Goodnight Eat & Drink , I decided to make more artisanal Italian food available to the public on a regular basis.
Parmesan mushroom appetizers. Credit: P.E. Peepers/CNN
On the first night of my wine tasting, I added more red wine to the antipasti. Upon unpacking the array of ancillary foods presented on the table, I realized it was better to mix fresh mushrooms.
Perhaps because of my surroundings, I was distracted and I forgot the specific flavours and tastes of each mushroom. I wasn’t in the mood to pay as much attention to them and quickly moved on. But this is where my cognitive trick-of-the-mind comes in.
I remembered that the fungi in my head were going to be very fresh and I knew that the sauce would depend heavily on their temperature. The more milk, the milder, and the more acid, the stronger, and the richer.
Parmesan mushrooms and boneless chicken. Credit: P.E. Peepers/CNN
Here, I play an interesting trick. While cooking my mushrooms, I decided to increase the milk to just under 2 grams per square centimeter per day (the upper limit recommended by culinary guidelines). I’m not saying it’s enough to start reaching for the cream of tomato soup, but if you’re avoiding dairy and really want some of that still-fresh feel, it should add some texture to your dish. It’s a small tweak that was well worth the extra extra steps.
Cheese was the main flavor I was after, as well as another sort of age-inducingly sharp herbal flavor, courtesy of parsley. But with Parmesan, I wanted to play with things a bit — I thought cheese-and-herb might be something I could play with without putting too much effort into it. Because Parmesan is made in the European tradition, it can produce some robust flavors, including the sweet pea flavor.
This was also the first time in my life I decided to turn my chicken to roast meat, and the taste of the turkey I thought I’d selected was dull. The provenance of most freshly cut chicken came with a knowing nod. A few other flavors came into play, including a slightly smoky yet classic basil flavor that only the farmers and farmers’ market vendors could achieve. The mushrooms were delicious, not as different from normal mushroom tastes as many thought they would be, but definitely more palatable.
Parmesan mushroom toasts (crème fraîche-style, not known by Italians as “crème”). Credit: P.E. Peepers/CNN
I spent a little time portioning the mushroom dishes and prepping the plate, particularly the long type of toasts topped with romesco — a large amount of olive oil and dried Spanish chiles, smothered in Parmesan. My friends tried to get to know what my inspiration for this dish was, since while romesco is the subject of conversation in my circle of friends, the pepper and cheese seem completely at odds in popular palates. But the difference between an average Parmesan and an elaborate version are no less distinctive.
As for the final result, it was cooked to the correct portion of warmth but still had an interesting smokey flavor which I have to admit is not as common as I’d hoped.