Fantastic Fungi

Eat mushrooms for a fat-free flavor boost

SWK warmmushroomsaladPhotographed by Jim Stott

Mushrooms—most of us have strong feelings about this simple form of fungi found in almost every corner of the world.

In quizzing folks about what they do or don’t like about mushrooms, we found it consistently came down to two things—the texture and the wonderful pungent flavor that varies with each type. We were surprised to read that an affinity for mushrooms may be age related. Research shows that the very young and the very old find the taste of mushrooms less pleasant on the palate than other age groups. Take note and enjoy them now!

SWK mushroomsoupMost people love the nuances of aroma and texture that mushrooms add to a multitude of dishes, and chefs appreciate the versatility that they provide. Morning, noon, or night they can be added to recipes for frittatas, salads, sandwiches, appetizers, soups, and main dishes.

Mushrooms are cholesterol free and, regardless of how they are served, they offer many health benefits; in fact, the Chinese have used them for centuries for their healing properties. Mushrooms are rich in copper, potassium, folate, dietary fiber, selenium, zinc, manganese, and vitamins B1 and B2. They contain a negligible amount of fat and no sodium, so they can be a great flavor booster in recipes for folks on special diets. A 100-gram serving of mushrooms also contains 3.3 grams of protein, making them a good option for vegetarians.

We are highlighting a few of the many mushroom varieties here. Use your own taste buds when deciding what you’re going to put in your recipe, and check the market for availability, which differs from region to region.

White: This is the most common type of mushroom and can be found in every market. It is white or light brown and has many common names, including table, Italian, or white button; it is mild tasting and firm.

Morels: These cone-shaped mushrooms vary in color from tan to brown. Unlike white mushrooms that have smooth surfaces, morels have a porous, sponge-like appearance above the stalk. They also have a stronger flavor, which has been described as earthy, smoky, or even nutty. These mushrooms typically are more expensive than white mushrooms and can be hard to find off season. Be sure to clean these mushrooms carefully.

Portobello: Portobello mushrooms are similar to white mushrooms but are much larger and a deep brown color. They are never harvested until they are very mature, and that explains the denser texture and deeper flavor of these popular favorites. When they are harvested before they reach full maturity, they are called cremini mushrooms. These are often used interchangeably with white mushrooms when a slightly stronger taste is desired.

Chanterelle: These distinctive mushrooms have a white or yellowish stalk and open into a beautiful, bright yellow or orange flower-like cap. Chanterelles have a delicate texture, so take care to avoid overcooking them. We enjoy the nutty taste of chanterelles in fresh salads.

Shiitake: Shiitake mushrooms are mostly brown and have wide, umbrella-shaped tops. They have a dense texture and meaty taste, so they often are used as a meat substitute in vegetarian dishes. Shiitake mushrooms are one of several different types of mushroom popular in Asian recipes.

Oyster: Probably the most beautiful of all the species, these mushrooms get their name from the appearance of their caps. Oyster mushrooms grow wild at the base of logs or trees and are white, beige, or gray. Some have short stems while others are stemless with caps that attach directly to deciduous wood. These mushrooms have a soft texture and delicate flavor that complements seafood.

When shopping, it is easy to select fresh mushrooms. Avoid those with dark spots or those that are too soft. Turn the mushroom over and check to see if the gills are exposed. The “ring” is the soft covering that joins the edge of the cap to the stem, and if it is not intact and the gills can be seen, the mushroom is past its prime.

We hope you try the recipes we’ve chosen for this column. Experiment and change the type of mushrooms you add; in most recipes they are interchangeable. The salad is ideal for a spring lunch and the soup is hearty enough for an evening meal. After you taste each one, we’d love to hear what you think. Enjoy!

SWK DriedPorcini350x

Roasted Wild Mushroom Soup

Serves 4-6
(substitute mushroom varieties as you wish; however, the texture of the soup may vary slightly)

I ounce dried porcini mushrooms
I medium red onion, chopped
6 ounces fresh cremini or portobello mushrooms, chopped
5 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, chopped
2½ tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup dry red wine
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
½ cup heavy cream
Fresh sage leaves for garnish

1. In a small bowl, pour very hot water over the dried porcini mushrooms and let them soak for about 10 minutes.
2. Place rack in the middle of the oven and set heat to 425°F.
3. In a large roasting pan, mix together the onion and cremini, shiitake, and porcini mushrooms. Add the oil and salt and pepper to taste. Roast for 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and while it is hot, deglaze by adding the wine and stirring well. Place the pan back in the oven and roast for another 10 minutes. Remove pan from oven, add the broth, and let the mixture sit out of the oven for about 5 minutes.
4. Working in batches, purée the soup in a blender or food processor until smooth.
5. Pour the soup into a medium pot and add half the cream.6. Taste for seasoning, reheat, and serve hot with a drizzle of the remaining cream and a sage leaf for garnish.

Warm Salad of Mushrooms and Zucchini with Rosemary Butter

Serves about 4, each 2¼ cups

4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon minced rosemary
1½ teaspoons fresh thyme
2 medium zucchini, sliced into rounds
1 cup mushrooms (as you prefer)
2 small shallots, minced
6 tablespoons sherry vinegar
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 large head radicchio, thinly sliced
1 large fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts, toasted
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
12 large butter head or Boston lettuce leaves
½ cup crumbled Gorgonzola or goat cheese

1. Combine butter and fresh herbs—toss zucchini, fennel, and mushrooms in mixture and place on sheet pan to roast in 400°F oven until caramelized.
2. Heat medium-sized sauté pan over medium heat. Whisk shallots, vinegar, and mustard in a small bowl; add to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Add radicchio and walnuts. Cook, stirring occasionally, until just wilted, about 3 minutes.
3. Divide lettuce leaves among 4 plates. Top with the warm salad and sprinkle with cheese.