the magic of mushrooms


oven dried button mushrooms

Mushrooms seem to hold a seductive power over me. And I don’t mean those ‘magic’ ones that they sell in shops in Amsterdam. Whenever I come across something on a restaurant menu with the magic word: ‘mushroom’ or better yet ‘porcini’ or ‘ceps’ I find myself struggling to look further down the list of delights. It tends to be pretty much a done deal…I’ll have the mushrooms….

Something that surprised me on a recent business trip was that one of my colleagues who seemed to define her diet by what she wouldn’t eat: seafood, red meat, mould ripened cheese..all the good stuff… actually got excited when it came to mushrooms.  I had despaired that we were never going to find anything that she wanted to eat apart from boring old chicken. But I was delighted to learn that mushrooms can have a magical pull over other people as well…even fussy eaters.

When I was living in France, my absolute favourite section of the local Saturday farmer’s market was the old dudes selling mushrooms.  Not just your regular champignons and portabellos, these guys had all manner of wares. From the cute looking fat stemmed ceps (porcini), to the honeycombed morels, to the windswept umbrella shaped chantrelles, to the down right bizzarely named ‘pieds des moutons’ (sheep’s feet..I think) and ‘trompettes des morts’ (trumpets of death – for your fearless mushroom eater) there was something for everyone. 

I longed for my French to be better so that I could at least try to weasel my way into a mushrooming excursion with one of these stalwarts. But that dream wasn’t to come to fruition so I had to make the most of the opportunity to buy their wares and experiment with them in my little kitchen.

Back in Oz, I’m still yet to find someone to take me mushrooming.  Maggie Beer has often written of the delights of hunting mushrooms in the pine forests near the Barossa and one day I hope to have the pleasure of discovering my own mushroom treasures. But in the mean time I am able to feed my mushroom cravings with commercial mushrooms.  The growth of the exotic mushroom market with delights such as oyster, enoki, shiitake and shimeji means that there are many new options to explore. 

To add some ‘wild’ flavour to cultivated mushrooms you can use dried porcini mushrooms or porcini powder. But ny current favourite is my most recent Fratelli Fresh discovery: Italian truffle salsa. This paste is made mostly of field mushrooms with some dried porcini and a dash of truffle oil. The overall effect is very truffleish but I find it a much better for adding a complexing hint of earthy truffle flavour than the easy-to-overdose-on standard truffle oil.

Another method for bolstering commercial mushrooms is to oven dry them before use, an idea I picked up from an old recipe in my favourite food mag: Australian Gourmet Traveller. Some time hanging out in a slow oven drys the mushies out and concentrates their earthy goodness. Elizabeth David has another suggestion. She bakes the mushrooms in a bed of vine leaves with olive oil. This is something I’m yet to try but given my current mushroom obsession it’s only a matter of time….all good things…


oven dried mushroom risotto
serves 4

If you don’t have any truffle salsa available you could substitute a few drops of truffle oil or throw a few dried porcini mushrooms in with your stock or better yet do both.

500g button mushrooms, wiped clean and halved
4T extra virgin olive oil
2T unsalted butter
1 large brown onion, finely diced
200g arborio rice
1/2 C dry white wine
1 red chilli, chopped
3 sprigs lemon thyme, leaves picked
1 bay leaf
5C chicken stock
large handful parmesan cheese, freshly grated
2t truffle salsa
additional parmesan to serve
best quality extra virgin olive oil to serve

To dry the mushrooms, preheat an oven to 160C. Place mushroom halves in a single layer on an oven tray and drizzle with 1T olive oil and sprinkle with s&p. Bake for approx 1 1/2 hours or until mushrooms are golden brown and reduced in size.

For the risotto bring stock to the boil in a medium saucepan then reduce heat to a simmer and keep covered. In another medium heavy based saucepan melt butter and oil over a medium low heat. Add onion and cook covered stirring occasionally until onion is soft but not browned. Increase heat to medium and add rice. Cook stirring for approx 2 mins until rice is slightly toasted. Add wine and cook, stirring until it has been absorbed.

Add chilli, thyme and bay leaf and a ladle full of simmering stock. Stir and cook until stock has been absorbed. Continue adding a ladleful at a time until the risotto is all oozy and the rice is cooked to your liking (I tend to leave mine a little al dente). If you run out of stock use boiling water.  Remove from the heat and stir through cheese and truffle salsa and season with s&p. Cover and allow to stand for a few minutes.

To serve divide between 4 small warmed plates. Grate over extra parmesan and drizzle with a dash of your best quality extra virgin olive oil.
mixed mushrooms with ricotta & soft polenta
serves 2

You can just stick to one type of mushroom but I prefer to mix things up with about half field mushies and the other half a mix of something exotic like the asian mushrooms: enoki, shitake and shimeji.

I like to cook my polenta with chicken stock for added flavour without having to go crazy with butter and cheese. But you can substitute water or vegetable stock if you prefer to keep it vego.

400g mixed mushrooms, wiped clean and roughly chopped
1 sm onion, finely diced
40g unsalted butter
2 sprigs thyme, leaves picked
1/2 C chicken stock
2T lemon juice
1t truffle salsa, optional
for the polenta:
2C chicken stock
1/3C polenta
30g parmesan cheese, grated
100g ricotta, to serve
handful continental parsley, leaves picked to serve

Heat butter in a frying pan and cook onion over a low heat until soft but not brown.  Increase heat to medium and add mushrooms and saute, stirring until the mushrooms are cooked through. Add chicken stock and thyme and cook for a few minutes until the mushrooms have a nice saucey consistency. Add lemon juice and truffle salsa and
season with s&p.

Meanwhile for the polenta, bring stock to  the boil in a medium saucepan and add polenta in a steady stream, whisking vigorously. Allow polenta to cook over a low heat whisking every few minutes until it has slightly thickened. Stir through parmesan.

To serve divide polenta between two warmed plates. Place a pile of mushrooms in the centre of each and crumble over the ricotta before topping with a few parsley leaves.


mixed mushrooms with ricotta & soft polenta


  • hAh! I made a mushroom risotto on the weekend too. Your polenta with mixed mushrooms looks divine too. I have a bag of button mushrooms ready for the drying and polenta’ing!

  • I was the dinner guest for the risotto and was just trying to sneakily lift the recipe and roll out elsewhere……thanks Missy Jules!

  • Ok, here is where I diverge from the norm. I was brought up on mushrooms. Those mushroom picking expeditions you were hoping to go on were a weekly event for me as a kid. Dad would drag us out of bed at some ungodly hour to go hunting through the hill sides of South Canterbury NZ in search of wild mushrooms.

    We would scour the ground for nice plump looking ones and fill up buckets of them for Dad, who would take them home and turn them into what can only be called Mushroom goop. I suppose it was meant to be soup…but I had a rather unrefined palate at the age of 10, so It didn’t go down well. To this day I have trouble enjoying mushrooms… even though I force myself to add them for effect to all my pseudo fancy dishes.

    Maybe one day it will all fall into place… like my olive renaissance, and when it does I’ll come back and re-read this post :)

  • Hi Jules….question, when do you add the oven dried mushrooms to the risotto? I may have missed but couldn’t find that in the recipe. thank you :)

    • Good spotting Carol,
      Stir them in at the end when you’re happy with the risotto texture… thanks for the pickup!

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