During these chillier months — or “cooler” being the more appropriate word for folks here in Florida — our palates crave warm soups, hot roasts, and other warming comfort foods of the season. A cold salad probably ranks pretty low on the food cravings list, right? Well, you can have your salad greens without lowering your body temperature by making a warm salad. Though it’s an oxymoron, a warm salad is the perfect starter or main course for your winter table, and I have just the recipe for you: sherry-braised mushrooms sautéed with shallots, thyme, and garlic, tossed with mixed greens, toasted hazelnuts and shaved Pecorino cheese.
Mushrooms are a great alternative to meat in a salad as they’re savory and hearty, pairing well with a variety of vinegars, nuts and cheeses. Many varieties of mushrooms are widely available in the winter and early spring months, which is why this is the perfect time to go foraging for tasty fungi at your local grocery store.
Though I didn’t go out and dig them up in my backyard, I’m using the term “wild mushrooms” with this dish because species of edible mushrooms that are either cultivated or harvested wild can be used in it. Examples of cultivated (or farmed) mushrooms include shiitake, Portobello, cremini, oyster, trumpet, etc.; mushrooms that are most commonly harvested wild (foraged) include truffle, matsutake, chanterelle, hedgehog, and, of course, the psilocybin-containing hallucinogenic ones (which I wouldn’t advise using in this recipe). Unless you’re a seasoned mushroom hunter, your safest bet is probably to buy them at the grocery store.
The key to this salad is adding the freshly sautéed mushrooms straight from the pan to the salad greens and tossing them together seconds before serving. The greens will wilt a few minutes after the hot mushrooms are added, so you don’t want them to wilt too soon before they’re eaten — they won't taste bad, but a soggy pile of salad just isn’t pretty to look at.
Enjoy this salad as a main course or alongside a warm bowl of soup, and pair it with a zesty Sauvignon Blanc or a medium-bodied Pinot Noir.
Sherry-Braised Wild Mushroom Salad with Pecorino and Hazelnuts
1 pound various mushrooms (shiitake, cremini, porcini, etc.)
High-heat cooking oil, as needed
2 cloves garlic, minced
A few sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
1/2 large shallot, minced and divided in half
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar (or more to taste)
2 tablespoons butter
4-6 cups mixed greens (arugula, baby kale, etc.)
1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts, toasted
3 ounces Pecorino cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler
Salt and pepper to taste
Extra virgin olive oil, as needed
To wash the mushrooms, wipe off excess dirt with a damp kitchen or paper towel. Cut them into equal sized pieces.
Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add enough cooking oil to just coat the bottom of the pan. When the oil is hot, add the mushrooms and cook until golden brown, only stirring occasionally. Once they’re browned and cooked, stir in the garlic, thyme, and half the shallots, and cook until fragrant. Deglaze the pan with the sherry vinegar and remove from heat. Stir in butter and season mushrooms to taste with salt, pepper and more vinegar if needed.
Put the salad greens in a large bowl, drizzle a little olive oil over them and sprinkle with the other half of the shallots and some salt and pepper. Add half of the mushrooms, plus half of the nuts and cheese, and quickly toss to combine. Divide salad between serving plates or place in a large serving bowl. Top with the rest of the mushrooms, and sprinkle remaining nuts and cheese on top. Serve immediately.