Looking back to the puffball entry I wrote on August 13 last year, I can’t believe how long it’s taken for my backyard colony of gem-studded puffballs (Lycoperdon perlatum) to emerge this season. Emerge they have, however (in early September, finally!), and with them a host of other puffballs as well.
First there were the big puffballs I found on September 3 amidst the sagebrush in an open field on a hilltop in a dry aspen forest in Fairplay, Colorado. This after Gregg’s parents took me on a crazy off-roading adventure (which they didn’t think was all that crazy) consisting of a mile-long drive up a hilly mining road strewn alternately with rough talus and nasty ditches from the spring runoff to get to the trailhead. It’s true that I’m a wee bit squeamish about off-roading, but Gregg’s usually cautious parents seem to have a penchant for it ever since they emerged triumphant from an ill-advised tour in their Jeep Grand Cherokee over Mosquito Pass from Leadville to Fairplay a few years ago.
Anyway, on Saturday’s hike, I’d just about concluded I’d struck out with wild edibles when we came to the gathering of large puffballs (I’m still debating the species: Calvatia booniania? Calvobista susculpta?)
They weren’t all that big as far as giant puffballs go—about the size of my fist—but it was enough to trigger a spasm of glee from yours truly, which in turn elicited a small amount of amusement from Gregg’s parents. A few tiny black beetles were hunkered up in their beetle holes in my mushrooms, but later that night I picked them out with a toothpick, rubbed the dirt off the medium-sized globes with a towel, and stored them in a container (wrapped in a towel to absorb moisture) in the refrigerator for later use.
Puffpall Parmigiana Pucks
“Later use” turned out to be an exciting “invention” on my part: puffball parmigiana!
I sliced the big puffballs thick and breaded them with breadcrumbs I’d made with assorted leftover bread recycled through the food processor, then fried them in oil. I didn’t have enough to layer and bake into a true parmigiana, so I served each singly with a dollop of tomato sauce and melted mozzarella on top, which Gregg came to call “puffball parmigiana pucks.” The picture doesn’t do them justice; those puffball parmigiana pucks were delicious—and made out of leftover bread, no less.
The next day, Gregg typed “puffmal mushroom parmigiana” [sic] into his browser, clicked around, and then shot me an accusatory look. “Where did you get the idea for puffball parmigiana?” he asked, pointing at his screen to a blog entry at ChezWhat? by Christo where not only are his puffballs bigger than mine, but also his puffball parmigiana looks a hell of a lot better than mine too.
Hitting the “Back” button on Google, Gregg pointed out that my July 2011 entry, “A Puffball at 12,000 Feet” came up fourth in the search results for “puffmal mushroom parmigiana” (at least on his computer, but it was fifth on mine, a later test showed) even though I have never written about it before—and that was because my dear friend Butterpoweredbike told me directly to make puffball parmigiana in a comment on that particular post. Ah, okay, I see. Well…all I can say is this: Thank goodness there are people like Butter out there to help me invent things that already exist because frankly, puffball parmigiana is awesome, and it sure was fun thinking it was my idea, if only for an evening.
“I like it better than eggplant parmigiana,” Gregg says. “A lot better.”
So listen. If you are puffball-curious and happen to have giant puffballs sitting lonely in your yard, field, or cattle pasture right now, and you can make certain of your identification and the specimen is fresh, then you should most definitely pick one post haste and make a puffball parmigiana with it. This is free food, people! And, it’s mmm good.
Mushroom Stuffed Veggies
In addition to the big guys, it’s extremely convenient that our smaller gem-studded puffball garden off the rocky hill at the end of the backyard is starting to fruit.
I first tried sautéing, creaming, and peppering a handful of these and serving them on eggs and toast like some sort of gravy and biscuits thing, but as it turned out, I couldn’t stomach it. Maybe it was the fake eggs. With some prodding, Gregg finished mine for me.
I was successful, however, with my latest obsession—mushroom stuffed veggies made with wild mushrooms and recycled bread. It honestly doesn’t matter what kind of mushrooms you use, though puffballs are what I’ve been finding of late. It also doesn’t matter what kind of veggie or bread. (Gregg’s mom likes to come up and freeze chunks of bread and leave them for years in the freezer, so lately I’ve been extracting and thawing those before making breadcrumbs out of them in the food processor.)
To make the stuffing, chop the mushrooms into pieces and sauté them along with whatever else needs sautéing, like onions, garlic, purslane, dandelions, dock, whatever. Then add something liquidy—a concoction of melted butter or olive oil and a can of juicy stewed tomatoes works for me. Separately food process or chop up the leftover bread (stale is okay as long as it’s processable). Then combine the breadcrumbs with the sautéed ingredients in proportion to make a moist stuffing.
For the veggie “baking dishes” so far I like bell peppers, banana peppers, or zucchini with some of the innards scraped out. Halve, prepare, stuff and bake until the veggies get soft and the outer stuffing turns into a crunchy browned shell, throwing on the cheese (I used mozzarella) at the last minute until melted. Here at 11,000 feet it takes 3 days to cook stuffed veggies. Just kidding, but it does take over an hour. These are a nice way to use both wild mushrooms and any other finely chopped wild edible you want to throw into the stuffing.
In light of my earlier parmigiana realization, however, I feel obliged to admit that this recipe comes from my mom and dad, a bastardization of either their stuffed clams or my dad’s stuffed mushroom caps or both. (One day, I swear, I will have an original idea.)
All These Fall Puffballs Everywhere
In addition to both the gem-studded and the larger puffballs, Gregg spied a healthy colony of small, brown spotted or striped puffballs two days ago during a walk around the neighborhood. A sample of these is in the refrigerator now and will be next up for tasting after we finish our earlier finds. They’re different from any puffball I’ve ever seen or eaten, however, so we are going to do some research and then hopefully a taste test, waiting 24 hours first before consuming in quantity. Wish us luck—or, if you know something I don’t know, please let me know now before it’s too late!