“Grown-up people do not know that a child can give exceedingly good advice even in the most difficult case.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot
A year or two ago I was in St Petersburg for an industry exhibition. I searched the guidebook for an interesting, non-business restaurant not too far from my hotel. We were with an vegetarian colleague so there needed to be a good selection for him to choose from too. I came up with The Idiot – after the eponymous book by Dostoyevsky part of which I understood had been written on the premises. It’s a wonderfully eccentric place, stuffed with bric-a-brac and dusty-looking oil painting, and with backgammon, checker and chess sets provided, all to a background of jazz. And as they say endearingly on their website, “we are happy to provide you quality service and English-speaking stuff.”
Eating at The Idiot includes a complimentary shot of vodka, but if you were feeling a bit more adventurous you could set yourself up for these mushrooms with their Crime and Punishment cocktail – as they describe it – “Crime (ours) and Punishment (for you) – Vodka, Martini, Cognac, Champagne”
These mushrooms go well with a sausage cake to become a full-blown lunch.
Also, as a lunch, they are sublime on sourdough toast, served with a salad dressed with fresh lemon juice and a walnut oil dressing – the quantities below would serve two. Make the accompanying salad out of a couple of baby gem, with the dressing being the juice and zest of half a small lemon, 4 tbsp of walnut oil, smoked salt and some generous grinds of Indonesian long pepper.
This dish does not freeze well.
Recipe for Russian Mushrooms in Cream
Serves 4 as an accompaniment – or you can make in four individual oven-proof ramekins and serve as a starter
- 600g/1 lb 4 oz Portabella mushrooms
- 1 leek (this is optional)
- 120ml/½ cup double cream
- 55g/2 oz/¼ cup grated cheddar
- smoked salt, Indonesian long pepper
- a few grinds of nutmeg (if you are having trouble with your nutmeg grater go here to find a good one)
- a walnut of butter for frying
- Preheat the oven to 210°C (use the top right Aga oven).
- Take off the tough outer leaves of the leek and slice about half of the white section very finely – throw away the rest or use it for stock.
- Put a knob of butter into a frying pan and begin frying the leeks gently – this will take about 15 minutes.
- Peel and roughly slice the mushrooms.
- Fry the mushrooms with the leeks.
- Take out the mixture and arrange artistically in a shallow dish – a quiche dish is ideal.
- Season generously.
- Mix most of the cream, grated cheese and nutmeg together and pour over the mushrooms – if it looks moist enough don’t add more cream but otherwise add the rest. Sometimes the mushrooms produce a lot of liquid of their own – you need to take that into account.
- Put in the oven for about a quarter of an hour – don’t let it burn so, especially if you have an Aga, keep a watch on it.
This post is dedicated to Jonathan Parr, with apologies for booking him into a cupboard complete with red light on the ground floor of a St Petersburg hotel.