People often presume that because I’m a chef I cook all kinds of amazing meals at home. I love food and cooking but when it comes to cooking for myself I want something that is quick. Mushrooms, both fresh and dried are a great ingredient to keep on hand for quick meals or easy entertaining.
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Although most people know that a mushroom is a fungus, relatively few realize that the portion we eat is really only the “fruit” of the fungus. Much as a tomato is only one part of the plant, the mushroom stem and cap are the fruit of an underground series of fibers that comprise the fungus itself. When this bundle of fibers has matured to the point that it’s ready to reproduce, they push up through the ground and sprout the fruiting body that releases spores rather than seeds to be scattered by the wind.
Dried mushrooms on hand in the pantry are great for a quick weeknight risotto that’s packed with fabulous fungi flavor. While most grocery stores carry dried mushrooms, you can save some money by scouting out the nearest Asian market for dried shiitake mushrooms. Soak dried mushrooms in warm water to rehydrate them and then squeeze out excess water. Strain the flavor-packed soaking liquid to remove any sediment and save the liquid to use for a soup, sauce, risotto or stew. Store your fresh mushrooms in the refrigerator but make sure that they can ‘breathe’. If tightly wrapped (as in the plastic cartons with plastic wrap), the released moisture will condense and fall back on the mushrooms resulting in quicker spoilage.
Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms are often referred to as “wild” but they are better described as domestic ‘specialty’ mushrooms since those in the markets are typically cultivated.
Whether as a supporting role as a filling for an omelet, or a starring role in a soup or salad they provide great flavor, versatile, and quick cooking!
Warm Salad of “Wild” Mushrooms & Spinach
Yield: 4 servings
1 lb. shiitake or oyster mushrooms
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon minced shallot
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Spanish sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons walnut oil
Salt and pepper to taste
4 cups baby spinach
Trim stems from shiitake mushrooms by turn upside down and gently prying the stem away from the cap. Discard stems. Tear mushroom caps into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.
Heat a 10” sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and shallot, garlic, and thyme. Saute until shallot is tender and mixture is fragrant. Add sliced mushrooms and sauté until softened.
Add Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, and walnut oil. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
Place baby spinach in a mixing bowl and pour sautéed mushrooms over the top. Toss quickly to wilt spinach and plate on salad plates, mounding neatly and making sure that each plate has an ample amount of mushrooms.
Variation: Turn this into a meal by adding some grape tomatoes cut in half, crumbled feta cheese or goat cheese, and cooked shredded rotisserie chicken.