Nothing says winter and mountains and woods and all that is good from the earth as vehemently and invitingly as this cluster of many mushrooms together in cream.

Here a pound of assorted wild mushrooms is saute'ed quickly in very hot butter, which has been flavored with shallots, garlic and leeks; then heavy cream is added and cooked with the mushrooms until it thickly coats and coaxes them together.

At the last moment, a handful of chopped fresh dill and a little salt and pepper are added, making this medley of wild mushrooms one of the most elegant of winter vegetables.

The purist in me says that the best way to serve this dish is as an appetizer, spooning the mushrooms onto a small, dark-colored plate and garnishing them with a sprig of dill. But they also make a great vegetable to serve with roast chicken or turkey, or as an accompaniment to venison, or with any type of grilled or broiled steak or chop, or to be spooned over a simply prepared breast of chicken or some saute'ed scallops of veal -- more as the sauce than the vegetable. This is also great as a filling for bouche'es, vol-au-vents, or omelets.

Special cooking notes: A pound of wild mushrooms, if you don't pick your own, will be quite expensive, so bear in mind that you can use part domestic, or even all domestic mushrooms for this dish, although domestic mushrooms don't shout woods and winter with quite the authority that wild ones do. A CLUSTER OF WILD MUSHROOMS (4 servings)

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butterSTART NOTE almost half a stick of butter per person? omygod. pcr END NOTE

1/2 cup finely chopped shallots (about 6 medium shallots)

2 plump garlic cloves, finely chopped

2/3 cup finely chopped leeks (about 4 medium leeks)

1 pound of mixed fresh wild mushrooms (shiitakes, oyster, chanterelles, or other firm wild mushrooms or regular domestic mushrooms)

1 cup whipping cream

1/2 cup finely chopped fresh dill

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the butter in the largest saute' pan you have and set over low heat. When butter is melted, add the shallots, garlic and leeks and cook over low heat, without browning, until translucent and tender (not just a little limp), about 10 minutes.

When leeks and shallots are cooked, raise the heat to medium high and when butter is very hot, toss in the mushrooms. Cook for about 2 minutes, tossing and flipping the mushrooms in the hot butter, until all of the mushrooms are hot and have developed a slightly glossy finish as they have absorbed the butter. Do not overcook the mushrooms at this point.

While the vegetables are cooking, pour the cream into a large saucepan and place over medium heat. When the cream is just about to boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer. Allow the cream to cook down, stirring now and then, as the vegetables are cooking. Be careful of the two catastrophes inherent in cooking cream: that the cream boils nastily over and out of the pot, or that it scorches on the bottom because the heat accidentally crept up while you weren't paying attention to it.

Add the hot cream to the mushrooms all at once -- it'll bubble up -- and continue to cook over medium-high heat until the cream has reduced and thickened to the point where it adheres thickly to the mushrooms and comes away from the bottom of the pan when stirred. Stir the mushrooms most of the time that the cream is reducing, to prevent scorching, about 5 to 7 minutes (depending on the size of the pan and the amount of heat).

Finally, stir in the dill, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve immediately. Do not leave the mushrooms in the pan, as the cream will continue to reduce and may scorch.