Although the time of irresistible spring morels has passed, there is a whole world of mushrooms coming along in the next few months—think summer chanterelles, boletes, and coral. Come September and October, fall fungi will mushroom (no apologies for the bad pun) into a parade of gustatory delight. Of course, domestically farmed mushrooms are commonly available all year round—porcini, cremini, oyster, shiitake, enoki, and others.
There is something primordial and atavistic about mushrooms. They represent a food that still connects us to the wild, and the fact that many of our most prized edible fungi resist being cultivated only deepens that mystique. Mushrooms also defy tidy classification; at least 40,000 species are known, out of which several thousand are widely eaten by humans. Contrary to popular belief, very few mushroom species can actually kill you, but many will give you at the very least a big stomachache or worse. If you forage for your own, be sure you know what you’re doing and how to identify them properly.
Mushrooms are one of nature’s richest natural sources of glutamate, an amino acid that is also abundant in seaweed, Parmesan cheese, and tomatoes. This accounts for their meaty, savory taste property called umami, making them delicious on their own or when combined with other foods such as beef, veal, bacon, poultry, pasta, vegetables, eggs, cheese, nuts, and shallots.
Whether they’re foraged or come from a farmers market, grocery store, or a mushroom CSA (yes, a surprising number of those exist), once you get them home, always store them dry and loosely in a paper bag in your refrigerator. Plastic bagging and moisture will swiftly turn them into a slimy, rotten mess. And don’t wait too long to eat them—no more than 3 to 5 days. Wait to wash them until right before using; the easiest way to clean them of dirt and any insects that may be hiding out is to immerse them in a sinkful of water and swish them gently. You can also wipe them clean with a special mushroom brush, a damp cloth, or even an old toothbrush with soft bristles.
How to cook these scrumptious morsels? It’s best not to boil them, as they’ll get waterlogged. But they take exceptionally well to grilling, broiling, roasting stir-frying, and sautéing; these cooking methods help evaporate their copious moisture and concentrate their earthy fungi funk. Brush mushrooms with a little butter (goose or duck fat are heavenly), sprinkle them with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, and cook them over high heat until they’re browned.
- Season and broil or grill a whole portobello mushroom cap and use it in a sandwich or as a burger substitute.
- Some mushrooms, like porcini, oysters, shiitakes, and chanterelles, can be pickled. Look for Polish and Russian recipes, which tend to be excellent.
- Mushrooms with risotto or polenta is another combination made in heaven.
- Porcini and other boletes are exceptional when cooked in parchment paper, which actually bakes rather than just steams them, in contrast to aluminum foil.
- The delicate flavors and textures of mushrooms make them terrific in stir-fries. Depending on the variety of mushroom, you can cook them substantially with other ingredients or wait until the last minute to preserve their crunchiness (as with enoki).
- When you soak dried mushrooms to reconstitute them for recipes, save their soaking liquid—it makes a terrific base for stock.
- Wild rice has a special affinity for mushrooms; their contrasting textures and flavors can be mesmerizing.
- Chop up mushrooms finely and use them in hamburgers, tacos, meatloaf, lasagna, meatballs, and pasta sauce. This will help cut the amount of ground beef used and create a more healthful dish with fewer calories.
- Combine them with walnuts in a hearty summer chicken salad.
This scrumptious recipe by Lisa Gordanier may sound a bit heavy for summer, but it is actually quite simple, surprisingly light, and supremely satisfying. This recipe calls for oyster and shitake mushrooms, but you can substitute almost any kind you like.
Pasta with Wild Mushrooms
Serves 2, with leftovers for lunch
Olive oil or butter for sautéing, about 3 tablespoons total
½ pound shiitake mushrooms, sliced into fat strips
½ pound oyster mushrooms, torn or sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
½ medium yellow onion, cut into small dice
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup dry or medium-dry (amontillado) sherry
¾ cup chicken stock
⅓ cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
6 ounces dried penne pasta (or other favorite shape)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 small tomato, diced (optional)
Parmesan cheese, shredded
- In a large sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the mushrooms, then season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the mushrooms have given up their liquid and are slightly caramelized (about 7 to 10 minutes).
- In a small sauté pan, cook the onions in the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil until they turn slightly translucent. Add the garlic and stir until the garlic is soft but not brown.
- Add the onion mixture to the mushrooms. Add the sherry and chicken stock and reduce by about half. (Watch it! This can go fast. If the liquid reduces too much, you won’t have enough sauce to coat the pasta). Add the cream, rosemary, and thyme; reduce somewhat until the cream has thickened. (Take a big whiff of the combination of the flavorful liquids, mushrooms, and herbs—it’s pretty awesome.)
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package instructions, undercooking it just a little. Drain, then add it to the mushroom mixture. Stir well until the pasta is evenly coated and has soaked up most of the flavorful liquid. Add the parsley and chopped tomato, stir just to combine, and taste for seasoning. Serve in warmed bowls, with freshly grated parm on the table.
You can find lots more delicious recipes and tips for cooking with mushrooms in Bounty from the Box: The CSA Farm Cookbook. This is the perfect book to order now so you can take advantage of the summer bounty bounding in over the next few months!