La Diva and Her Magical Mushrooms!

Darlings!  These mushrooms are INDEED magical, though not in the way YOU are probably thinking!  (tsk, tsk!)  I find that if there is a food that can add so much flavor and also be used in so many different ways to be not only magical, but a good choice when picking produce at the market.  Versatility is key in La Diva's kitchen!

I got this lovely three pound box of oyster mushrooms as a gift upon a visit to Paradise Farms Organic, down in Homestead, Florida.  Farmer Gabriele knew I'd made good use of them!




The oyster mushroom is quite delicate in texture and flavor.   It's called an oyster mushroom because of it's obvious resemblance in shape to an oyster, but that's it, the mushroom DOES NOT taste like an oyster!   I found a website with some interesting facts about the oyster mushroom, including it's ability to create natural statins, an aid in reducing bad cholesterol.  Click HERE for more fun facts!




La Diva usually does not care for raw mushrooms marinated, raw in salads or side dishes, and I find the common button or cremini mushroom to be quite chalky and bland when eaten without cooking.   However with the oyster mushroom's flavor being so subtle and texture so fragile, I decided I'd put them raw into a salad along with fresh sprouts from Paradise Farms Organic, heirloom tomatoes and mixed greens and topped with Hani's divine artisanal goat cheese!  Not only were they delicious but they created a very beautiful and unique salad, definitely restaurant worthy!




Doesn't this look divine?  A lovely pork roast with potatoes is rubbed with rosemary, olive oil and salt and then stuffed with a breading of oyster mushrooms, garlic, butter and bread crumbs!




La Diva sauteed finely sliced oyster mushrooms in butter and olive oil, added a bit of garlic and rosemary and then mixed it with breadcrumbs.  I cut a nice slit into the middle of the roast, stuffed it and secured it with kitchen string.  The mushroom and garlic flavor the middle of the roast and adds a moist hit of flavor!  The DJ loved it!

After the salad and mushroom stuffed pork roast, I found I still had a LOT of mushies left!  And because they ARE so fragile, I would have to eat them all  as soon as possible.  Now what to make next?





How about a lovely sauteed chicken breast over creamy polenta topped with an oyster mushroom tarragon cream sauce?  For quicker cooking, I cut the breast in half lengthwise, dusted with flour, salt and pepper, browned on both sides and then deglazed the pan with sherry.  I added the mushrooms and let it cook for another 30 seconds to meld the mushrooms with the chicken juices and then served it up!   You know it was DELIZIOSO!   HINT:  Add a 1/2 cup of milk to the chicken broth for an extra creamy polenta!

But La Diva STILL had a good half a box of oyster mushrooms!   I've been making pasta over the summer and thought to myself, why not try ravioli?  I had made pasta quite successfully, and for some reason, I had the determination and patience to give ravioli making a try!

I made the dough and let it chill.  Then I chopped the rest of the oyster mushrooms up fine and cooked them in a combo of butter and olive oil (adding olive oil to the butter means it won't brown) and just a touch of cream, garlic and thyme.  After the cream reduced, I remembered I had white wine, added that and reduced again, creating a concentrated flavor perfect for a ravioli filling.

I let the mushrooms cool in a bowl and then added more of Hani's goat cheese, which is very mild in flavor and has the texture of ricotta, along with grated parmigiano cheese, minced parsley, salt and white pepper.  I tasted it.  Wow!  A FLAVA HIT!~





I rolled out the dough and cut into long strips and then dotted along the strip with a heaping teaspoon of the mushroom cheese filling.  Topped with the other strip of dough and cut into squares and sealing each one with the tines of a fork.

See how they are not completely perfect?  I don't have a pasta machine to roll out the dough, nor do I have a ravioli crimper.  This is a low gadget cucina!  But guess what?  It doesn't matter, the end result will still be a tasty ravioli and practice makes perfect!  These are tres rustique!






I had some extra pasta dough left, so I cut it up and hung it to dry for another dinner!  I boiled the water for the ravioli and put the second tray of ravioli in the freezer.  Once it was solid, I would put it into freezer bags for dinner for another night!


Now, what to TOP the ravioli with?  I thought about plain butter and cheese but I knew the concentrated flavors of the mushroom and cheese mixture could handle a tomato sauce.  I took a handful of wrinkled grape tomatoes that couldn't be used in any salad, tossed them into a hot fry pan of olive oil and whole garlic and Italian herbs, cooked for a few minutes, added red wine and reduced and then pureed the lot and put through a sieve to take away the skins and seeds to leave me with a highly flavored tomato puree.  I swirled a bit of extra virgin into it and tasted it for seasoning!  Da-yum!

After boiling the ravioli for a good five minutes, they expanded and I carefully removed them with a slotted spoon and put into the bowl of sauce, carefully covering each with the rich tomatoes.

And then La Diva served 'em up!




These ravioli are NOT the delicate little pillows you might find at a restaurant or bought at the grocery store.  These were definitely a heartier ravioli and a slightly chewy texture, which I actually love!





Oh dear!  I TRIED to take a nice photo of the gorgeous mushroom filling but the darn thing kept slipping off the fork before I could shoot it.  The meal was hot and La Diva was hungry.  Here's the one shot I got!  haha!




La Diva's rustic oyster mushroom and goat cheese ravioli with savory tomato red wine sauce!  Wow!  I'm glad I've got more in the freezer, the mushroom goat cheese combo was perfect.  Too many times, La Diva has had mushroom ravioli that are bland and blah, not these.  And I liked how the goat cheese complemented the subtle mushroom flavor without overpowering it.

Well done, La Diva!  Three pounds of gorgeous, fresh mushrooms used in four very different ways.  La Diva wants to know:  How would YOU use oyster mushrooms in a meal?  I'd love to hear all about it!

Ciao for now, darlings! x

PS:  If you want to easily grow your own oyster mushrooms, check out my buddies, Back to the Roots Oyster Mushroom Growing Kits on Amazon! Easy peasy!



Seafood and Cheese: To "Pair" or "Not to Pair," That IS the Question!



Darlings!  Recently La Diva's cooking prowess was put to the test via a dish I cooked for a competition and was put in front of several esteemed judges.  It all came down to the taste of the dish in one bite.

La Diva thought long and hard about what to make and decided that a recipe using grilled oysters on the half shell, a recipe that I'd inherited from a restauranteur, ex-boss and dear friend of mine when while living in Sydney.  I named the dish Oysters a la Carl, after the man who taught it to me, Carl Blance.  The dish included an egg custard, extra virgin olive oil with minced garlic, prosciutto and arugula all on an oyster in the half shell and then topped with parmigiano cheese and grilled to a bubbling brown.  It's a creamy, savory, salty perfection of a dish, all in one beautiful bite.

Yours truly has served this dish numerous times and always with many gracious accolades!


"Delicious!"

"Divine!"

"I love this and I don't even like oysters!"





La Diva's "Oysters a la Carl!"  Creamy, savory and MORE-ISH!

I've been making this dish for 15 years and what's so great about it is that La Diva considers it a "bridge" dish for those that don't really eat oysters in their purest form, RAW.  This scrumptious dish is for those that love Oysters Rockefeller or Mornay, cooked with a hint of cheese!


BUT THE CHEF JUDGES HATED IT!


Comments ranged from

"No, I can't.  I can't "do" seafood and cheese."

to

"Why?  An oyster is already a perfect thing?"

and

"You were so close.  You should have left out the parmigiano."

Your La Diva was devastated.   I was made to feel like I'd committed a sin against humanity!   And here all along, La Diva thought the dish was a shoe in, a sure thing.  So, I took the criticism on the chin and thought to myself, "I call BULLSHIT" and began to ponder about all the cheese and seafood pairings I could recall!




AHH, the Sydney Rock oyster, in it's natural state!



What's all the fuss about cheese and seafood, you say?

Here's the thing:  traditionally, if you are Italian or an Italian American, it's considered a NO NO to pair seafood with cheese.  If you order Shrimp Fra Diavolo (spicy shrimp pasta!) in any good Italian restaurant, you will NOT be offered cheese to top your pasta.  In fact, the waiter would not only refuse but possibly sneer at the Philistine that dared to desecrate this dish of beauty by smothering it's delicate sea flavors with a pungent parmigiano or pecorino!






Okay.  I GET IT.  I KNOW.  And yes, when it comes to oysters, I AM A PURIST and I believe that LESS IS MORE.  But....if you know anything about La Diva, you know I'm an irreverant rule breaker!  Convention?  BAH!  BORING!

Now La Diva was irked.  Now I had a bee in my bonnet and it was buzzing bigtime.  What about ALL OF THE OTHER dishes that paired seafood with cheese?  

Oysters Mornay:  a bechamel sauce containing CHEDDAR CHEESE!

Oysters Rockefeller:  grilled oysters topped with PARMIGIANO CHEESE!





And what about the French classic dish of Coquille St. Jacques?  That is a grilled scallop on the half shell and includes the addition of gruyere cheese AND parmigiano cheese!  Are you telling me THE FRENCH don't know what they are talking about?  Harumpf!

Even the Greeks do it!  Anyone ever have that beautiful dish of shrimp in a tomato sauce with a piquant feta cheese?!  It's called "garithes saganaki," and it's one of my fave dishes!

Then, there's shrimp alfredo, shrimp and scallop enchiladas and the good ol' American tuna melt!  And let's not forget lox and cream cheese with bagels!  I'm starting to think this "no seafood with cheese" thing is a bit like three day  old fish...I AIN'T BUYIN' IT!




Off the boat direct from Italy, Chef Fabio Viviani approves of the Southern American classic dish of "shrimp and grits!" 

Of course it was only last winter that La Diva had the pleasure of meeting ex Top Cheftestant Fabio Viviani and posed the very same question to him:  "Fabio, what do YOU think of pairing cheese with seafood?"  He answered positively that there are many great dishes in America that do this, including the Southern classic dish of "shrimp and grits" which naturally includes good ol' cheddar cheese.

Well, it was too late now.  I could lament all I wanted but I still got slammed in the competition.

And then I saw it.  On FACEBOOK, a friend of Italian heritage had posted a delightful version of Lobster Macaroni and Cheese!  It looked DIVINE.  And there it was, right there in the title CHEESE.  Ha!   With LOBSTER!  Ha to the HA!   I could taste sweet, sweet vindication coming my way.




Yo, Gina!  Wanna try my oysters with parmeezhan cheese and proshut?

So, La Diva reached out to this friend.  After all, HE would know THE ANSWER to this age old question of whether it is "proper" or "right" to pair cheese with seafood!  His name is Mike Colicchio and he comes from an Italian American family, has been cooking with his family his entire life, has traveled to Italy countless times AND has a famous chef brother.   Cooking is his passion.   La Diva was certain that he would be a reliable expert on the subject.

So, I asked him and here is his response:

"I think the whole "no cheese and seafood thing" is total nonsense.  Why?  You can pair anything, offal chefs stuff their hearts with a mixture that includes cheese so what makes seafood and cheese so verboten? 

I have had sardines and provolone with olives and crostini and clams oregenato have parmesan and breadcrumbs.  I adore anchovy with pizza.  Isn't that mixing seafood with cheese?

I have been to Italy seven times.  I have been served pecorino cheese with spaghetti all vongole. (spaghetti with clams)

I have had this disagreement with my (chef) brother for years.  I really do bring my own cheese to his house on Christmas Eve.  Our Mom loves it also!"

Ahhh SWEET VINDICATION!  In fact, when this question was posted on his   thread, others came to my defense!  They, too, had eaten spaghetti and seafood with cheese!




Mike Colicchio's Lobster Mac and Cheese.  Yeah, it says CHEESE right there in the title and it looks GREAT!

So, while La Diva didn't win the competition, I DID win peace of mind.  And in this world of "thinking outside of the box" where individualism is lauded and creativity in the kitchen is king, isn't that what it's all about?  Convention is  boring and rules are made to be broken.

Ciao for now, darlings!