Travelling down through Germany last month we stayed at a hotel in Mönchengladbach. It took us a while to find it as it was situated in an extraordinary, turreted turn-of-the-century creation in a big enclave of other contemporaneous buildings which I discovered, reading the in-room literature whilst waiting for my bath to run, had all originally been built as a reformatory school for boys who had been expelled. Go to the website for a flavour of this extraordinary place. The breakfast the following day was a buffet set out in the hotel kitchen. That kitchen must be the cleanest, most impressively spotless kitchen I have ever been in.
Often hotel restaurants lack personality and quality, but we’d already driven many miles and the main town seemed a long way off. So we thought we’d risk eating in. Someone had really gone to town with the interior design of the bistro which featured flamboyant, flailing glass light fittings (one had a remarkable flaming medusa appearance) and a luminous lime green illuminated bar which played colourful shadows across the sweet white Spanish wine cocktail the waiter concocted for us (he added lemon juice, lemon and lots of ice). Whenever lucky enough to eat out I usually choose dishes which I would never bother to cook for myself, and accordingly I went for the Jerusalem artichoke soup with sweet potato crisps and bacon foam – by the time I have peeled off all the knobs on the artichokes nothing worth having remains. It was a triumph… I discovered afterwards the chef there is Wolfgang Eickes and the restaurant is a culinary draw in its own right.
Elsewhere on the menu I spotted a salad incorporating croutons, cashews and mushrooms and I thought the mix of textures looked worth trying. When I reached the next kitchen where I was cooking I gave it a go using tinned chanterelles – I was trying to make this in June and they come into season in Autumn – and as tinned mushrooms go I was unexpectedly impressed. Normally I would say using tinned mushrooms was capital-punishment deserving cuisine crime, and using chanterelles in particular since one of their best characteristics is their beauty. Dorothy Hartley (Food In England) writing, unexpectedly poetically, in the fifties describes the chanterelle mushrooms as ‘a tiny fountain spurting gold’. They’re a sort of angelic version of the black trumpets of the dead mushrooms I write about in my All Souls’ Day post.
In fact, if you are making this in Autumn, and a salad seems a bit Spartan another good thing to do with them is to fry with butter and garlic (you should do this anyway if you’re not using tinned) and then, as Tom Parker Bowles so prosaically suggests in E is for Eating, an Alphabet of Greed, “mix into sloppy scrambled eggs on toast, they’re as comforting as a warm hug from a dear old great aunt”.
Recipe for croûton, cashew and chanterelle salad
- 150g/6 oz bag mixed lettuce
- 400g/14 oz tin (or two tins half the size) of chanterelle mushrooms – drained, or 150g/6 oz fresh mushrooms
- olive oil for frying
- 1 large crusty white roll, or whatever bread you want to use up
- 1 fat generous clove of garlic… or two measly ones
- 1 tbsp dried herbes de provence
- 100 g salted, roasted cashew nuts (or plain ones and dry-fry and salt them yourself)
For the dressing:
- 120ml/½ cup yoghurt
- 1 tbsp walnut oil
- 2 tsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp grainy mustard
- Smoked salt
- Indonesian long black pepper
- 1 tsp truffle honey (or any honey)
- Crush the peeled garlic clove with a little smoked salt
- Slice the roll into crouton-sized pieces
- Fry the bread, oil, garlic and herbs together to make croutons. You can do this ahead of time and keep in an airtight container for two or three days.
- Meanwhile make the dressing by simply mixing all the dressing ingredients together
- Add the nuts to the croutons.
- If you are using tinned chanterelles, simply drain and add to the frying pan. If you are using fresh mushrooms remove the contents of the frying pan to a dish and keep them hot. Fry the mushrooms
- Empty the lettuce into the salad bowl and toss with the dressing
- Top with the warm cashews, croutons and chanterelles