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The Dirt on How to Choose, Store and Cook with Mushrooms

Mushrooms Spilled out of a Basket

Spring showers may bring colorful flowers, but fall showers bring delicious wild mushrooms. Yes, we may need to bundle up a bit, but the damp, cool temperatures of fall are perfect for mushroom growing and likewise, for gobbling up these delicious fungi in cold weather dishes such as pastas, sautés, stews and pizzas. From the familiar cremini, oyster and shiitake to the more exotic trumpet, chanterelle and morel, there has never been a better time to discover the wild mushrooms available at your local Heinen’s grocery.

The main thing about wild mushrooms is that their earthy, umami flavor is more pronounced than the familiar white button mushroom. Umami, a pleasant savory taste, is a flavor synonymous with mushrooms, though their strangely meaty taste can be hard to describe beyond that. In a nutshell, mushrooms just.. taste… good. As with strawberries in spring, it’s pretty clear that fall is mushroom’s moment and we’d better eat them while we have them, so here’s the dirt on how to make the most of your mushrooms.

Spotting a Fabulous Fungi

Button, crimini and portobello mushrooms are the most commonly used mushrooms, but you owe it to yourself to take a walk on the wild side and try one of the beautiful varieties seen only for a few months in the fall such as chanterelles or trumpet. A high-fiber, low-fat source of protein and B vitamins, most wild mushrooms found in your grocer’s produce section aren’t technically wild, but are farmed much like button mushrooms. Look for caps that are smooth, dry and firm with no shriveled edges. Mushrooms should never be slimy with brown soft spots which indicates age and poor storage. If you can, buy from loose bins and bag your own.

Mushrooms in Basket with Brown Bags

The Perfect Preparation

Once you get them home, store mushrooms in a paper bag (plastic makes them rot more quickly) in the fridge for up to 3 or 4 days and wash right before using them. If fairly clean, a wipe with a soft, damp cloth should do the trick, but if clumps of dirt cling, give them a quick swish in cold water and dry on a dish towel before slicing them up.

One of the wild mushroom’s most charming assets is that they can stand in for meat. Ever have a portobello burger? Try grilling those meaty mushroom caps and serve as you would a hamburger. Or toss sautéed mushrooms into a cheesy pasta. No time to make a big meal? Scrambled eggs with mushrooms is a heavenly light dinner when sprinkled with chives. The addition of wild mushrooms takes even the simplest ingredients like a bun, pasta or eggs to the next level.

Grilled Portabella Mushroom Burger

Sautéing is probably the most common method of cooking mushrooms. Heat a small amount of butter or oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add a minced shallot or onion and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes then add the mushrooms, salt and pepper. Fresh mushrooms will act as a sponge and soak up the oil or butter in a hot pan and then release their juices once they get cooking. Cook them just until the juices evaporate in the pan for the best flavor; 5 to 7 minutes should do the trick. For best results, don’t overcrowd the pan or the mushrooms will be awash in their juices, taking longer to brown up.

Dried mushrooms are also worth exploring and are a great addition to fresh mushroom dishes. It’s easy to create big mushroom flavor by adding dried porcini or morel mushrooms to a fresh mushroom sauté. Soak them for about 20 minutes or until pliable in a bowl of warm water with a small plate on top to keep them submerged. Lift them out of the water, squeeze dry and add to soups, pastas, stews or scrambled eggs. Strain the liquid to remove any grit and save the mushroom water to add to soups, stews, risottos and sauces for even extra mushroom flavor. Or whizz dried mushrooms to a powder in a food processor and dust a steak before grilling or add the mushroom powder to mashed potatoes for a mushroom flavor bomb.

The recipe for Wild Mushroom and Thyme Spread is an oldie but goodie that I’ve been making for 20 years. Loaded with mushrooms, walnuts and fresh thyme, this tangy goat cheese-based spread keeps for days in the fridge and transports easily for fall picnics and get-togethers. The heavenly cheesy pasta dish is perfect for making ahead of time and then baking off when you need it. Whether for company or a celebratory family meal, four cheeses, wild mushrooms and pasta is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser. Use any mix of mushrooms you choose for these recipes. All are delicious.

Carla Snyder in her kitchen
By Carla Snyder
Carla has spent the past 30 years in the food world as a caterer, artisan baker, cooking school teacher, food writer and author of 6 cook books including the James Beard nominated Big Book of Appetizers. Her passion is sharing fresh, cooked-from-scratch weeknight meals that cut prep time and practically eliminate that nightly sink full of dishes.

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