Autumn Calls for Mushrooms

Zagreb has a lot of museums, but do you know which is the only one located on the main square? Mushroom Museum! This fact tells a lot about how important mushrooms are to us.

Rainy autumn is the best time to enjoy the bounty of fresh mushrooms. If you go to some of mushroom-friendly restaurants in and around Zagreb, you'll be amazed by the diversity of dishes prepared with the precious „forest meat“. Of course, we are talking about wild mushrooms, foraged from local forests.

Slika 1. “A mix of wild mushrooms fresh from the forest.” Image credit: Taste of Croatia

Before you continue reading, one very important note: never go picking mushrooms if you're not experienced or don't have an educated mushroom hunter with you. You know what they say – ALL mushrooms are edible indeed, but some of them only once. Once that crucial precondition is met, know that a mushroom hunting trip is one of the greatest outdoor experiences and joys. It's like a hike through beautiful scenery, but with a kick of adrenaline, and you get to bring the treasure back home. There are many forests in the hills and the countryside around Zagreb – on Medvednica Mountain, Žumberak and Samobor Hills, in Turopolje, Moslavina and so on. In high season, they will be packed with eager foragers. If you find a secret spot all for yourself, that's like hitting the jackpot.

Slika 2. “Delicious porcini spread from Gabreku 1929 in Samobor.” Image credit: Taste of Croatia

The most famous and popular wild mushroom is the porcini, the king of the forest. You’ll encounter the word vrganj, as it's called in Croatian, very often on menus these days. But there are really many more mushrooms out there, just as tasty. Chanterelle, saffron milkcap, parasol mushroom, horn of plenty, sweet tooth, red-capped scaber stalk, Caesar's mushroom... to name just a few. Each has its own characteristics, aromas, and the most suitable recipes. Most restaurants will rotate dishes like cream of mushroom soup, mushroom risotto, creamy mushroom pasta or steak with mushroom sauce. On the more traditional side, there's a hearty soup coming from the region of Zagorje, to the north of Zagreb – zagorska juha od gljiva. It's prepared with wild mushrooms, bacon, potato, paprika and cream, perfect for colder days.

Slika 3. “Mushroom expert and restaurant manager Mirko.” Image credit: Krčma Gabreku 1929 FB

However, if I had to pick just one eatery to be the official representative of the wonderful world of mushrooms in the north-western Croatian cuisine, it would be Gabreku 1929 in Samobor. This traditional restaurant is wholeheartedly dedicated to wild forest mushrooms because Mirko Šintić, the manager and one of the owners, is a passionate and very knowledgeable mushroom hunter. And luckily, the place is surrounded with hills and forests teeming with mushrooms. I had the honour of spending some time foraging with Mirko and his nephew Tomislav, and it really was like walking with a live mushroom encyclopaedia. An hour was enough to fill a basket with mushrooms I have never even heard of.

Slika 4. “Boletus edulis, porcini, vrganj – the king of the forest.” Image credit: Obiteljsko gospodarstvo Kršlin

The mushroom feast that day started with a simple yet amazing porcini spread – the essence of forest trapped in a jar. It was followed by a very rare delicacy, ajvar relish with porcini. Yes, it's as heavenly as it sounds. You need nothing more than a slice of homemade corn flour bread with it. Then came Gabrek's signature mushroom soup. At first, it may look like an ordinary mushroom soup, but it's made with a generous mix of wild mushroom and horn of plenty powder. The superiority of its taste is obvious at the first spoonful. Pickled mushroom salad was a welcome refreshment before the highlight – veal roast with mushrooms, porcini in this case. A happy mushroom overdose, without any hallucinogenic effects!

Slika 5. “Open your eyes in the woods, you never know what you might stumble upon.” Image credit: Taste of Croatia

If you want to try your mushroom cooking skills, hurry up while the forests and farmers’ markets are still full of them. In about a month, with the arrival of winter, the season will slowly come to its end. So be wise and prepared, and don’t forget to grab some extra ones for drying, pickling or freezing.

Header image credit:Taste of Croatia

Author: Morana Zibar / Taste of Croatia