I first stumbled upon a version of this idea while flipping through a collection of Galician recipes put out as a promotion for a group of restaurants during the 1990’s. It really sums up what I love about the food of the region, using great ingredients rather than fancy technique to make a powerful, memorable dish. Combining mushrooms and clams, and cooking them in a sofrito, with wine and saffron makes every bite of this dish practically explode with flavor.
I’ve talked a bit in other posts about how insanely in love with mushrooms Catalans are, but that doesn’t mean the rest of Spain doesn’t care about them. Wild mushrooms are extremely popular in various regions, including Galicia. Rosa and I have regularly picked wild mushrooms in the chestnut and oak forests in Galicia, and we have a few funny mushroom stories involving Galician family and friends.
The highly prized rovelló (“saffron milk cap,” Lactarius deliciosus, “níscalo” in Spanish) is probably the perfect mushroom for this dish, with its strong flavor and robust texture, but lots of mushrooms will work. I like to use a mix of mushrooms with different textures and tastes to give the dish more depth. Various edible Russula and Lactarius work really well, and this is one dish where the slimy waxy caps go great (Hygrophorus species).
For cultivated mushroom substitutes, use a mix of nameko, beech mushrooms (also called shimeji or pioppini), and king trumpets. Cremini or even white buttons make a nice addition as well, but I would skip portabellas, as they will not only turn everything a dingy brown, but their texture won’t be great used this way. Make sure to use at least of a few strongly flavored mushrooms, and a few with firm texture.
Clean the mushrooms well, and keep them in large pieces. Smaller mushrooms can be left whole, while larger ones can be halved, quartered, or cut in large chunks.
Because the wine contributes a lot to the flavor of the finished product, you want to use something that isn’t awful. This doesn’t mean get the top shelf stuff, but at least use something you would politely drink if someone served it to you. In Galicia, I would most likely use an Albariño, which is a dry, but very fruity varietal, that tends to be at least slightly acidic.
2 lbs of mushrooms, cleaned and cut in large pieces – read above for suggestions about types of mushrooms
2 lbs clams, cleaned and still alive
1 large onion, peeled and cut in small dice
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut in small dice
½ red bell pepper, seeded and cut in small dice
Saffron threads, a generous pinch
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley and more for garnish
1 whole guindilla or a small pinch of red chile flakes
1½ cups dry white wine
Oil for cooking
1. Make the sofrito: Get a cazuela, or large, heavy-bottomed pan hot on a medium-low flame. Add a generous amount of oil (a bit more than you need to coat the bottom, then add the onions, garlic, and a pinch of salt. Sauté, stirring regularly, until the onions begin to soften. Stir in the saffron threads and then continue to sauté, until the onions are very soft and cooked through, but not browned. Add the bell peppers and another small pinch of salt, and continue to cook, stirring regularly, on low heat. Continue cooking until the peppers are meltingly soft, but do not brown the sofrito.
2. Cook the mushrooms: Add the mushrooms, along with another small pinch of salt to the sofrito, and continue to cook on medium-low heat. The mushrooms will give off some liquid, let the liquid cook down and be completely reduced and reabsorbed. You can add a little more oil if necessary, and keep stirring regularly, to make sure nothing burns to the bottom of the pan. You don’t want to brown the onions or sofrito, but you want the mushrooms to get cooked very thoroughly. This will take at least 10 minutes, maybe a bit more.
When the mushrooms are cooked, stir in the parsley and the chile flakes (or guindilla), and cook for another minute or two.
3. Turn the heat up to medium, and then pour in the wine. Scrape up any browned bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pan and bring the wine up to a simmer. Let the wine simmer for a minute or two to get rid of a lot of the alcohol.
4. Stir in the clams and put a lid on the pan. Adjust the heat to keep it simmering gently, and cook just until the clams open. You can take the lid off and stir things around once or twice to make sure all of the clams are getting cooked in the liquid. As soon as the clams are all opened, remove from the heat, taste, and adjust salt if needed.
Garnish with a bit more freshly chopped parsley, and serve immediately with hearty, crusty bread. You shouldn’t need anything else!