Monday, March 24, 2008

Recipes: Mushroom Stifado & Mushroom, Pancetta, and Feta Stifado (Μανιτάρια Στιφάδο & Μανιτάρια, Ιταλική Πανσέτα, και Φέτα Στιφάδο)

Nature’s seasons and religious fasting periods profoundly influence what our Greek village relatives eat for dinner.

Many are farmers, relying on the fruits (and vegetables) of their labors for sustenance. Most supplement their diets with wild greens and snails, mushrooms and sea urchins, rabbits and octopus. All generously share abundant seasonal harvests with friends and neighbors.


To honor Orthodox teachings, religious Greeks follow a near-vegan diet (certain seafoods are allowed) on most Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year. Greeks also fast during Great Lent (starting seven weeks before Orthodox Easter), Christmas Lent, and the first 15 days of August. On many fasting days, the truly devout don’t use olive oil or alcoholic beverages.

This year Great Lent began on March 10, and followed a week during which meat was prohibited but dairy, eggs, and fish were allowed. The fasting structure is complex enough that
most people use a church calendar to determine the precise nature of the fast required on any given day.

The first day of Great Lent is called Clean Monday (Καθαρά Δευτέρα in Greek), and marks the end of Carnival indulgence (called Apokreas - Απόκριες in Greek). This year, Clean Monday was on March 10. It's a national holiday; the highways are full of urban Greeks leaving the city for a breath of country air.


Island families celebrate the day with a picnic of what's best and freshest from the fields and sea. Sea urchins, full of delicious roe in spring, are a favorite Clean Monday treat and are hand-gathered by the gunnysackful.

One year on the island, the confluence of perfect rains and temperature brought forth an unexpected bounty, just in time for Clean Monday. My husband returned home from surveying a mountain pasture with a big bag of horse mushrooms. After vetting their edibility with a knowledgeable aunt (the primary rule of wild mushroom gathering is “when in doubt, throw it out”), I constructed a hearty stew using this tasty treasure.


We are now well into Easter Lent for 2008. Mushroom Stifado is ideal Lenten fare: a hearty, vegan main course. For omnivores who aren't fasting, pancetta and feta add wonderful flavor to the stew. Recipes for Mushroom Stifado and the variation, Mushroom, Pancetta, and Feta Stifado, are set out below.

Mushroom StifadoMushroom Stifado (Μανιτάρια Στιφάδο)
Serves 4 - 6
Mushroom Stifado tastes best when made with wild mushrooms or a mixture of cultivated cremini, oyster, and shiitake mushrooms. Even when made with a single type of mushroom, this hearty stew is wonderful. Serve it as an appetizer, over pasta tossed with garlic and olive oil, or with roasted potatoes. Leftovers, chopped and mixed with stock, make a flavorful soup.

2 cups pearl onions (1 pound) or 14-ounces frozen pearl onions, thawed
2 - 6 Tbsp. olive oil
6 cups mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed, and cut in 1” chunks (1 1/2 pounds)
2 cups diced yellow onions, 1/2” dice
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper or 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper (optional)
1 cup red wine
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes or 2 cups fresh, with juices
1 Tbsp. minced rosemary
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 tsp. sugar

If starting with dried pearl onions, peel them and cut an X in the root end to help hold the onion layers together. An easy way to peel pearl onions is to drop them in boiling water for a minute and then slip off the peels.

Sauté the peeled (or thawed) pearl onions, lightly seasoned with freshly ground black pepper, in 2 Tbsp. olive oil until the onions are well browned on all sides and cooked through. Remove the browned onions from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Sauté the mushrooms, lightly seasoned with freshly ground black pepper, in the oil from the onions until they are well browned on all sides, adding olive oil as necessary. Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Remove the browned mushrooms from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Sauté the diced onions, lightly seasoned with freshly ground black pepper, in the same oil until they soften and begin to turn golden, adding olive oil as necessary. Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir in the garlic and Aleppo pepper, and cook for one minute. Stir in the wine and cook until reduced by half. Stir in the tomatoes, rosemary, vinegar, and sugar. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the browned mushrooms and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the browned pearl onions and simmer for 5 minutes. Serve immediately.


Mushroom-Pancetta Stifado with Feta (Μανιτάρια, Ιταλική Πανσέτα, και Φέτα Στιφάδο)
Serves 4 - 6

As with vegan Mushroom Stifado, this tastes best when made with wild mushrooms or a mixture of cultivated cremini, oyster, and shiitake mushrooms. I prefer using pancetta that has been cut in 1/4” slices and then diced, so I buy it directly from the deli counter where I can direct the pancetta's thickness, rather than in pre-cut packages of too-thin slices. The chopped leftovers, with the addition of stock, make a flavorful soup.

2 cups pearl onions (1 pound) or 14-ounces frozen pearl onions, thawed
2 cups diced pancetta or bacon, 1/4” dice (1/2 pound)
6 cups mushrooms, cut in 1” chunks (1 1/2 pounds)
2 cups diced yellow onions, 1/2” dice

2 Tbsp. olive oil (optional)
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper or 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper (optional)
1 cup red wine
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes or 2 cups fresh, with juices
1 Tbsp. minced rosemary
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 tsp. sugar
1 cup crumbled feta

If starting with dried pearl onions, peel them and cut an X in the root end to help hold the onion layers together. An easy way to peel pearl onions is to drop them in boiling water for a minute and slip off the peels.

Cook the pancetta over medium heat until the fat has rendered. Remove the cooked pancetta from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain it on paper towels.

Sauté the peeled (or thawed) pearl onions, lightly seasoned with freshly ground black pepper, in the rendered pancetta fat until the onions are well browned on all sides and cooked through. Remove the browned onions from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Sauté the mushrooms, lightly seasoned with freshly ground black pepper, in the rendered pancetta fat until they are well browned on all sides. Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Remove the browned mushrooms from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Sauté the diced onions, lightly seasoned with freshly ground black pepper, in the rendered pancetta fat until they soften and begin to turn golden (add olive oil if necessary). Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir in the garlic and Aleppo pepper, and cook for one minute. Stir in the wine and cook until reduced by half. Stir in the tomatoes, rosemary, vinegar, sugar, and reserved pancetta. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the browned mushrooms and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the browned pearl onions and simmer for 5 minutes.

Stir in the crumbled feta. Serve immediately with hilopites, pasta, or roasted potatoes that have been tossed with olive oil, minced garlic, salt, and pepper.

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This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Ramona from The Houndstooth Gourmet.

13 comments:

Kalyn said...

Very interesting. I have two good friends who are Greek, but I don't think they are that faithful about fasting or avoiding meat, although one is pretty active in the Greek Orthodox church. But with delicious options like this, maybe she does and I just don't notice!

Lisa said...

Nothing like a mushroom dish to get my full attention. This, I plan to make. I'm thinking the vegan version with some feta cheese would be just perfect.

Ric said...

I'm always looking for new ways to try mushrooms (which are one of my favorite foods), and your Mushroom Stifado looks and sounds so appetizing. Thanks for the recipe Laurie!

Peter M said...

Mushrooms are such a good meat alternative and filling. Now if we can only get the Greeks in Greece to stop eating canned or jarred mushrooms...

Peter G said...

A great alternative Laurie. I've only ever eaten stifado with hare and I really like this vegan version.

Kevin said...

Both of those mushrooms dishes sound really good. With mushrooms, pancetta, feta and peppers you just can't go wrong!

maybahay said...

a lovely, hearty vegan recipe. sounds delicious, laurie.

Emiline said...

This sounds wonderful. I wish I could go out mushroom hunting. That sounds like an adventure.
Instead, I have to buy my shrooms from the grocery store.

Maria V said...

chunks of mushroom cooked in a dark sauce, yum yum!

Bijoux said...

Hi Laurie - This is a perfect dish for me (meatless) as I am a partial vegetarian (I do eat fish and seafood however)...how can I noteat fish...I'm from "the" island...LOL

I recall eating hare stifado as a child but mushroom stifado...I'm enamoured. This is a keeper!!

Laurie Constantino said...

Hi Kalyn, seems like people are fasting less and less. And people fast in all kinds of different ways, with the older people being more rigorous than the young.

Lisa, yes the vegan version with feta would be very good.

Ric, I'm so glad you like it - mushrooms truly are wonderful.

Peter M.,yes until recently it was either wild mushrooms or canned mushrooms in Greece. But in the last few years, I've been seeing tubs of mushrooms at the greengrocers. We can only hope that this trend continues.

Hi Peter G., seems as if I've had lots of stifados: beef, rabbit, cauliflower, fish, and mushrooms. I've loved them all - it's the caramelized onions that really make it.

Kevin, yep, pancetta and bacon - 2 ingredients that can make almost anything taste better.

Maybahay, thanks!

Emiline, oh, I love mushroom hunting. It is incredibly fun. You should find someone to teach you.

Maria, exactly!

Hey Bijoux! Yep, fish is in your αίμα, all right. Like I was saying to Peter, I've eaten lots of stifados in my life. I bet you'd like cauliflower stifado, it's another good veg dish.

Ivy said...

Laurie I love mushrooms and the stifado is awesome. I don't know how cheap they are in Alaska but I know that truffles cost a fortune over here.

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