In 1998 I spent six months working in the UK. Martha and I lived in a flat in the dingy London suburb Slough (rhymes with cow) made famous by The Office (and, before that, by the poet laureate John Betjeman). Friends pitied us for our diet of English food, imagining slabs of gray, overcooked meat, soggy fish ‘n’ chips, and vegetables boiled into limp submission.
But those in the know, such as my colleague Rebecca (now jam goddess at Deluxe), told us not to worry, that the UK was in the midst of a major gastronomic overhaul. She was right. We arrived to find food-crazed Brits long before Top Chef landed on American soil.
We watched—along with everyone else—TV episodes of Delia Cooks, Ready Steady Cook, Two Fat Ladies, Nigel Slater, and the beautiful, tragic Nigella Lawson. We ate extraordinary Indian food (acknowledged as the national cuisine) on trips to London, and on Sundays I would ride my bike through the countryside, pulling over for a pint every so often and eventually stopping to sup on afternoon roast before wobbling back home.
We amassed a collection of contemporary English cookbooks. One of our favorites was Nigel Slater’s Real Food, the title appropriated long before Michael Pollan and the New World locavore movement. Real food meant both English standards (e.g. Toad in the Hole) as well as the many ethnic influences bubbling up across the country, all of it made with fresh ingredients and updated preparations. Twice we blew up our little English oven while mistakenly cooking one of our mainstays, Nigel’s 40 Garlic Chicken, on gas 9.
One of our favorite quick meals was called a bap. It was a hot vegetarian sandwich recipe that Nigel attributes to Nigella. I confess that I still don’t know exactly what a bap is (a type of bread?), but I like the sound of it. Nigel roasts the caps of large field mushrooms with garlic butter and parsley. This simple sandwich is excellent—and with a haul of spring porcini mushrooms foraged the other day here in the USA, I decided I’d give it a new spin.
Spring kings, as they’re sometimes known, are fruiting in my patches right now. I’ve written about the “little pigs” before. You can read more about them here, here, and here. They’re fun to forage and a joy to cook.
To make the sandwich, pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Chop together some garlic and parsley and mix into a large dollop of softened butter with a generous sprinkling of salt. Slather each mushroom cap with the garlic butter and roast for about 20 minutes. When the mushrooms are cooked and starting to brown a little at the edges, you can melt some cheese such as provolone or mozzarella as a finishing touch.
Choose good bread. I picked up a ciabatta from the Columbia City Bakery. When it’s time to assemble the sandwich, make sure you rub the cut ends of the bread in the pan juices.
You want to use large porcini buttons if possible, buttons with caps that haven’t fully opened yet. Placed upside-down on a roasting pan, the concave caps will hold the garlic butter. Nigel says a good bap should drip down your hands and arms when you eat it. I concur.