Contrary to popular belief, mushrooms are not vegetables. They are part of the fungus family and contain almost 80% water. Most mushrooms were originally discovered growing wild in forests. Some species like morels and chanterelles are still harvested from forests today. Others, such as the white button mushroom, cremini or portabella are cultivated on mushroom farms for sale.
The French actually learned to grow white mushrooms in the early 1700’s. It took decades for others to catch on to the taste of these versatile fungi.
For many years white mushrooms were only available canned or jarred, leading to their well deserved rubbery reputation. Today, the abundance of mushroom varieties found in supermarkets and groceries bring new dimensions to their uses. White mushrooms, sautéed with shallots or onions, make excellent additions to quiches, soups and sauces. Of course, combining white mushrooms with other varieties like cremini, oyster and portabella adds depth of flavor to the simplest of recipes. Here’s what to look for when buying mushroom varieties:
Cremini--small to medium brown mushroom with slightly open gills (dark part under cap) are a good choice for inexpensive flavor.
Portabella--mature creminis left to grow up to 6” in diameter, with gills that are completely open. Portabellas have an earthy, meaty taste that stands up to grilling and roasting.
Shiitake--flat-topped mushroom with long stems. These are sold fresh and are very flavorful. Trim and discard the stems before cooking and add to any recipe. Shiitakes caps are also available dried and can be refreshed by soaking in water.
Oyster--now found in supermarkets, this mild flavored mushroom has a leafy looking cap. The unusual shape adds eye appeal to any mushroom dish.
Enoki--these long-stemmed, oriental mushrooms with tiny white caps are often used for garnish as they are very delicate.
Morel, Chanterelle and Porcini—the most expensive mushroom assortment and only available in season. These varieties are sometimes sold dry and adding a little to a recipe will crank up the flavors of the other mushrooms.
Whatever variety you are purchasing, always choose firm mushrooms that are not wrinkled or spotted. Most mushrooms need not be peeled and can simply be wiped clean with a damp paper towel. If you must wash them, do so immediately before cooking as they will quickly turn slimy.
All mushrooms can be used interchangeably or better yet, combine them and experiment with our favorites. But remember, if you find blue or red mushrooms in the woods, leave those alone!
Duxelles is the French name for a mixture of diced mushrooms that is sautéed and used as a filling for turnovers and other pastries.
8 tablespoons butter or oil, divided
¼ cup shallots, minced
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ pound shiitake or porcini mushrooms, chopped
½ pound fresh white button mushrooms, chopped
¼ cup white wine
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, checked and chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and garlic. Sauté until fragrant. Add mushrooms and continue sautéing until most of the moisture has evaporated. Add wine and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and allow the mushroom mixture to cool completely.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare a sheet pan.
Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter. Allow to cool slightly. Place one phyllo sheet lengthwise on your countertop or Silpat. Brush lightly with butter, beginning at the outer edges and working toward the middle. Cover with another sheet of phyllo. Brush once again with butter. Repeat twice more until you have 4 sheets stacked.
Cut the stack of phyllo sheets crosswise into eight equal strips. Place one tablespoon of filling near one end of each strip. Lift up one corner diagonally to cover the filling. Fold the point of the filled corner so it meets the opposite side of the strip and forms a triangle. Fold the triangle straight so the filling is completely enclosed. Continue folding the triangle onto itself, until you reach the end. Brush the outside of each triangle with melted butter. Repeat instructions with the other 4 sheets of phyllo and the rest of the filling.
Place the triangles on a baking sheet and bake 12-15 minutes or until golden. These can also be frozen raw and baked as needed. Makes 12-16 appetizers
Shiitake Mushroom & Potato Jalousie
A jalousie refers to a pastry that is made of two layers of dough, surrounding a filling. The edges of the two layers are pinched together by hand, or crimped with the tongs of a fork. Before baking, slits are cut in the top crust. This will allow steam to escape during baking and also create decorative windows in the crust—like a jalousie window.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, chopped
3 potatoes, peeled and cubed
¼ cup mayonnaise
Salt and pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
36 puff pastry squares, thawed slightly
1 egg, slightly beaten
Boil potatoes until soft; about 20 minutes. Drain well and mash.
In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil. Sauté onions until limp. Add mushrooms and sauté until liquid evaporates. Add potatoes, mayonnaise and seasoning. Mix until smooth.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place 1 puff pastry square on your floured work surface. Place 1 heaping teaspoon filling in the center. Brush egg on border. Take another square, dust with flour and fold lightly in half. Cut 6-7 parallel slits to the fold, cutting through the fold, leaving a narrow border all around. Unfold square and place on top of the filling. Press edges down with fingers to adhere. Bake for 20 minutes until golden.
Jalousie can be prepared in advance and frozen raw. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden.