Dinner for one. matsutake mushrooms.
Fall is here, and it is time for mushrooms, probably my favorite vegetable. I might broil giant portabello mushrooms until they ooze black juice or sauté creminis (baby portabello mushrooms) with onions, toss them into pasta or stir them into beef stroganoff. But the wild ones are different. Simpler is better, all you need a touch of oil, a scattering of salt to bring out the flavor.
At Uwajimaya I find matsutake mushrooms, which are also called pine mushrooms. They grow nestled in the roots of pine trees, and when I buy them they are crusted with dirt and sprinkled with pine needles. The ones whose caps have unfurled like white umbrellas have less flavor and fragrance than the ones that are still tightly curled into themselves. At home I trim away the crusty bits, wash them until they are gleaming pale white. I have had them simmered in soup, chicken broth made heady with the scent of the mushrooms. Or drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and then broiled in the toaster oven. But there is another way, my favorite way.
There is a pot of chicken broth in the refrigerator. I slice the matsutake mushrooms, not too thinly, but not too thickly either. They are firm and white and fragrant. I've washed some rice, drained away all the water, arranging the slices of mushroom across the top. I pour in the chicken broth. You need chicken broth, homemade broth, to bring out the flavor of the matsutake, which will simmer and steam as the rice cooks. It is worth the trouble to make the broth, because how much trouble can it be to throw some chicken into a pot with some water, leave it to simmer while I putter around the house?
While the rice steams I slice some dried seasoned tofu, arrange the slim batons neatly in two rows on a plate. Finely chopped scallions are scattered on top, shades of green against pale creamy brown tofu. I pour thin streams of soy sauce and sesame oil over it all. The tofu is chewy and salty, with the sharp crunch of scallions and the heady intensity of sesame oil. I almost want to dive into that oil, but I only need a little to make me dizzy with its fragrance. When I am alone this is all I need for a meal, some matsutake mushroom rice and tofu.
The rice is perfect. I knew it would be. It is infused with the flavor of the matsutake mushrooms, which have a delicate, elusive aroma that I can't begin to describe. Not overwhelming, the way white truffles can be, but intoxicating all the same. The chicken broth gives just enough contrast to ground the lightness of the mushroom, and I cannot get enough. I dream about this all year until the season comes back again, and I can sit back and read as the scent of matsutake rice fills the air, until I can sit at the table and hold a bowl of golden rice in my hands.