Foraging for Mushroom Inspired Eats

Shiitake, yellow oyster, enoke, pom poms, hen of the woods, white button and portabella

Drenched, I ran back to the car as if I could dodge the flood of rain that put an early end to the first day of the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival.  The opening day ended before I could forage the festival for all the mushroom delights.

Here, mushrooms were far from elusive…. novel earrings, fun-guy T-shirts, specialized mushroom-grilling tools, art, soaps and grow-your-own mushroom kits.  All very interesting but my hunt was for fungi of the edible kind.

Yellow, pink and gray oyster mushroomsYellow, pink and grey oyster mushrooms, miataki, pom poms, shiitaki, hen-of-the-woods, button and the granddaddy of them all, the portabella…produced in waste and decay (compost), their graceful plumage resembled reefs of coral beneath the sea.  And, their origins were well above the water line and just a local stone’s throw from the prominent hill defining State Street.

In my abridged time scouting the terrain, I found not one stuffed mushroom.  Instead, creative alternatives from aps to wraps, and even desserts. Roasted portabellas piled with fresh red tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and fresh basil confetti – bruschetta made with a capitol “M”… vegetarian mushroom chili – a formidable contender in the West Chester Chili Cook Off…tender rice and mushrooms arancini fried crisp and served hot, and pumpkin mushroom ice cream…just a few of my finds.

Of course, there was more to nibble and nosh, if not for the rain.  But I got more than a taste of mushroom inspiration for taking back to my kitchen.  Their earthy flavor connects the bounty of our fruitful summer with our anticipation of fall when summer’s vegetation withers, dies and returns to replenish the soil from which it came.

My simply marinated mushrooms sweetly bridge the seasons with versatility, flavor and nutrition.

The rain didn’t stop through the night, but like I predicted, did by dawn.  Mushrooms come up after the rain…today there is even more to celebrate at the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival.

Mushroom Marinade

Bring several quarts of water to a boil.  Add enough salt so that the water tastes like the ocean, but does not make you pucker.

Use the freshest mushrooms possible, free of blemishes and soft spots. Brush the dirt from their surface.  And, separate the mushrooms by size.

When the water is boiling, add just enough equal-sized mushrooms to cover the surface of the water.  This will allow each mushroom to cook the same amount of time.  More than that will cook some mushrooms longer if they are held under the water by mushrooms on the surface.  Fewer mushrooms, of course are fine.  Stir the mushrooms to cook evenly.

Small frail mushrooms like beech and enokis should remain in the water only briefly, say 20-30 seconds.  Heartier mushrooms like buttons, criminis and pom poms should stay in the boiling water 60-90 minutes.

Remove the mushrooms and submerge into an ice-bath to cool quickly.  When chilled through, place the blanched mushrooms in a colander to drain as much as possible.  You can place the colander on a plate or in a shallow baking dish and keep in the refrigerator until all the mushrooms are blanched, chilled and drained.

For variation, color and texture, I often blanch some celery moons and carrot ovals, each cut on the bias, after blanching the mushrooms.  Another good vegetable can be a chunky rounds of summer squash.  Regardless of what you choose, the carrots should be the last vegetable blanched because they can color the water and thus tint lighter vegetables.  Carrots and celery should stay in the water 60-90 seconds, or until crisp and only slightly tender.

From this point, a simple vinaigrette of choice will enliven the mushrooms and have them ready for snacks, salads, crudité, slicing for sandwiches or what ever your inspiration.  A classic vinaigrette includes mustard, white wine and perhaps some shallots.  However, three parts oil to one part vinegar, a clove or two of sliced garlic and salt and pepper to taste is simply delicious.

Use vinegar, lemon juice or any acidic component of your choice.  Add herbs and spices as you like. My favorite oils are roasted sesame, walnut, grapeseed and olive.  Olive oil will coagulate and cloud in the refrigerator, so allow time before serving for the oil to liquefy at room temperature.

Perfect for fall, one of my favorite dressings for the enoki and beech mushrooms is a light dressing of truffle oil, white rice wine vinegar and salt and pepper.

Simple.  Elegant.  Amazing on a crostini.

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