I’ve always been in love with mushrooms. Ever since my first encounter with a sliced champignon, straight from a can I’ve been hooked.
And I’ve always dreamed of learning the secrets to mushroom foraging. I’ve longed for finding my hidden patch in a pine forest. For developing a ritual of spending Autunmal days hunting for fungi-treasure and then mastering the drying and preserving techniques.
I came close once. A few years ago, when I was working a vintage in a winery in the Rhone Valley in France, the family who owned the little apartment I was renting invited me to join them on a mushrooming expedition. With stories of the abundance of ceps they had found the year before, I was almost bursting with anticipation.
But alas, it was unseasonably hot and dry and all we came home with were a few handfuls wild myrtilles or berries. And so my dream continues unrealised.
Thankfully, I’ve discovered a mushroom grower at the Canberra farmers market. While the varieties on offer are just your garden variety mushroom – no trompettes de mort (trumpets of death) or or cloud ear here, they are delicious. Earthy and savoury and meaty – everything you need in a mushroom, really.
9 things you probably don’t know about mushrooms
1. mushrooms don’t need washing
If your mushrooms look clean, then they probably are and no washing is required. If you see any visible signs of dirt, best to remove with a brush or moistened cloth, rather than dunking in water.
2. mushrooms can help your immune system
Mushrooms have the fascinating ability to be able to boost a week immune system. Maybe next winter we should all be eating mushroom risotto rather than getting flu shots.
But not only that, they are able to curb an overstimulated immune system, as in the case of auto-immune diseases such as arthritis and allergies.
3. like people, mushrooms can produce vitamin D
Yes, all those mushrooms that are out getting tans aren’t doing it to look good, they’re making sure they get enough Vitamin D.
4. mushrooms are neither plants nor animals
They actually belong to the ‘fungi’ kingdom along with bacteria & yeasts. Although I recently read they are classed along with animals rather than pants in the ‘super kingdom’ classification. I hope this revelation doesn’t open a metaphorical vegan can of worms ;)
5. mushrooms are the only non-animal source of vitamin B12
I did read somewhere that this was because of the manure that many mushrooms are grown in. But can’t remember where this tidbit came from.
6. mushrooms are rich in umami (or savoury) flavours
Containing glutamate, free amino acids and ribonucleotides, mushrooms have earned their nickname ‘meat for vegetarians’ because of their ability to boost the savoury flavours in food.
7. mushrooms are the second most valuable vegetable crop in Australia
And if you’re wondering, the humble spud is in the number 1. spot.
8. mushrooms have been linked to low rates of cancer
Apparently a study in Japan showed low rates of cancer in a population that had very high consumption of mushrooms.
On further investigation of this topic I have also learned that ‘magic’ mushrooms can help cancer suffers by easing their anxiety. Who would have thought?
9. unblemished, firm and dry are indicators of good mushrooms
When shopping for mushrooms, avoid any that are mushy looking, blemished or wrinkled or wet. Some would say its best to look for the same characteristics in your mushrooms that you would hope for in a mate.
roast portabello mushrooms
serves 3 – 4
I love roasting mushrooms because I find it so simple, just pop them in the oven and about 25 minutes later you have the most divine smells. It’s also great because the mushroom flavour seems to be intensified by the heat of the oven.
These roast mushrooms are a great go-to recipe when you need to find a vegetarian option. Serve with the same accompaniments that you would use for roast or grilled meat or fish. Too easy.
They’re also a life saver in a decadent mushroom sandwich with lots of mayo or aioli and a few salad leaves. Or finely slice and toss hot mushrooms and their juices in with some cooked pasta, a little extra butter and some parmesan cheese.
3/4 lb (350g) medium portabello mushrooms, about 7
1 – 2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1/2 bunch thyme
approx 60g (2oz) stick butter, diced
1. Preheat oven to 400F (200C).
2.. Trim mushroom stalks and place in a baking dish stem side up. Scatter with garlic, thyme, butter, salt & pepper. Cover with aluminum foil and bake 15 minutes.
3. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 – 15 minutes or until mushrooms are browned and tender.
roast mushroom & bread salad
serves 3 – 4
Bread salads are a brilliant way to use up any not-so-fresh bread you may have hanging around. But they are equally delicious with fresh bread as well. Just make sure your bread is rustic and has a substantial texture like a good quality sourdough.
The beauty of this salad is that the wonderful buttery, juices from roasting the mushrooms mix in with the dressing and get soaked up by the bread so not one ounce of earthy mushroom flavour is lost.
Field mushrooms or any other large mushrooms may be used instead of portabello.
For a vegan version, replace the butter with additional extra virgin olive oil and add a generous handful of toasted pine nuts instead of the parmesan.
2 tablespoons sherry or red wine vinegar
6 – 7 roasted portabello mushrooms (recipe above)
large chunk rustic bread, approx 7ox (200g)
1 bunch flat leaf (continental) parsley, leaves picked
shavings of parmesan cheese, to serve
1. Whisk together vinegar and 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a large salad bowl. Taste and season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
5. Carefully tear the mushrooms into halves or quarters, you want bight sized pieces.
6. Remove the bottom crust from the bread and tear into bight sized chunks.
7. Toss bread and mushrooms in with the dressing, encouraging the bread to soak up the dressing. Taste and season, if needed.
8. Toss in parsley leaves and sprinkle over the parmesan shavings. Serve warm.
5 ingredients disclosure: The photos above were taken before I had taken my 5 ingredients pledge. So the salad in the picture actually contains a 6th ingredient, wholegrain mustard. I’ve since made the salad without the mustard and it’s still lovely, phew. But by all means add a tablespoon of mustard if you like.
In case you missed it last week, I’ve released my ecookbook, 5 ingredients | 10 minutes in 2 NEW formats. To find out the details and make the most of my launch offer, head over to The Stonesoup Shop.