Trim and clean the mushrooms and then slice them into bite-sized pieces. Put a few tablespoons of oil in a pan, turn on the heat and add the mushrooms once the oil is hot. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over them as they cook but leave them undisturbed until they release excess water and begin to brown. Gently turn them over to sear the other side.
When they are done, remove them to a plate off the stove. Add the onion and garlic and an additional splash of oil if needed. Sauté the onion mixture on medium heat for a few minutes or until softened. Turn off the heat and deglaze the pan with the balsamic vinegar, scraping off any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Let the pan cool to room temperature.
In a separate pan, dry roast the pine nuts by putting them in a pan over medium heat and toasting them for a few minutes. Keep a close eye on them since they can go from browned to burnt quickly. Set aside to cool.
Put the cooled vinegar-onion mixture in a bowl and add the olive oil. Whisk until blended and season to taste.
Arrange the greens on plates and top with mushrooms, pine nuts and a light sprinkling of parmesan and dill. Dress gently with the vinaigrette and serve.
About this recipe
If you are fortunate to know a good mushroom forager, you can try the bounty that Vermont forests offer. If you do not or it is off-season, we are lucky that mushrooms other than just plain white button are now available in most markets year round. This salad works with any kind of mushroom and doesn’t overwhelm their delicate flavor. Though a bold shiitake has quite a different personality from a delicate oyster, I have never cooked a mushroom that didn’t pair well with garlic, olive oil and some sort of acid such as lemon or balsamic. I kept the vinaigrette simple so any type of mushroom will work.
The mushrooms are seared until caramelized to really bring out their flavor and then the onions and garlic are gently cooked in the pan to bring their intensity down a notch so as not to overwhelm. The trick to success with searing mushrooms is to give them plenty of room in the pan and let them sauté in oil without disturbing them until nice and brown. Giving them a light sprinkling of salt will help them exude excess moisture.
One last note about preparing mushrooms: It is heresy among mushroom lovers to even speak of rinsing them under water and the general advice is to brush any dirt off with a towel. In my experience I have found that if the mushroom is really dirty, it is better to rinse them with water just before cooking than suffer grit in your dish. Any water that was absorbed by the mushroom will be cooked off if you immediately put it in a hot pan.