It's autumn in Sydney, which makes it the perfect time of year to create this wonderful antipasto style dish. The last of the sweet, crisp baby green beans are coming on to the market, while at the same time the very special saffron milk caps are starting to appear.
Saffron milk caps (Lactarius deterrimus), also known as pine mushrooms are a special wild treat that is on offer for a few weeks each autumn. They were originally introduced into Australia by European settlers, mainly Italian and Polish, and now grow wild, hidden in pine tree plantations west of Sydney. The locations where they grow are a closely guarded secret so you need to forage for your own, or find a really good greengrocer who will stock a few kilos each autumn. They are worth the effort - the taste is sublime, full and earthy mushroom flavours with a beguiling orange colour that bleeds once they are cut and cooked.
Of course, these mushrooms are not easy to come by, but fortunately this dish still tastes wonderful when made with other mushrooms. Hmm, let's see - try button mushrooms, field mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, fresh shiitake mushrooms, shemiji mushrooms or cremini mushrooms. As long as they are wonderfully fresh this dish will still taste delicious.
To get an idea of how to serve these beans and mushrooms, try piling them onto the corner of a serving platter and partner with some great olives, some baked ricotta, a few oven dried tomatoes and some wedges of freshly grilled flatbread. I can't think of a better way to spend a warm autumn weekend afternoon.
If the green beans are nice and small (5 cm or so) leave whole, otherwise slice on an angle into short lengths, removing the stem end. Slice the mushrooms into thick wedges (if you are using button mushrooms, leave whole).
Heat the oil very gently to a low - medium heat in a heavy based sauté pan. Add the garlic and cook for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the beans and mushrooms, stir well and cook for 5 minutes. Add the sugar and vinegar, then cover the pan, cooking gently for 10 minutes. Remove the lid; add the herbs, salt and pepper, then stir well. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Serve at room temperature.
This can easily be made the day before - in fact the flavours will mingle and get to know each other better, making the dish even more wonderful.