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Room for Mushrooms

Are you a "fungophobe"? That's what mushroom lovers call people who are afraid to eat mushrooms. True, some wild ones are deadly -- but that's no reason to fear the rich variety of fresh and dried mushrooms popping up in supermarkets.

Nutritionally, we should all be fungophiles -- mushroom lovers -- because they're high in fiber, low in calories, and free of sodium, fat, and cholesterol. The common, white, cultivated mushroom has lots of potassium; the exotic but often available shiitake is higher in fiber and protein, with lots of flavor.

In some cultures, mushrooms aren't just considered tasty. The Chinese and Japanese have long used fungi medicinally, believing that mushrooms promote overall vitality. U.S. researchers are also beginning to study medicinal possibilities.

A growing market

The familiar white mushroom still dominates the U.S. market, accounting for almost 90 percent of mushroom sales annually. But consumers are showing ever-greater interest in more exotic varieties.

One cautionary note: If you buy packaged mushrooms from a supermarket or reputable grower, you can assume they're safe to eat. If you go outside to pick your own, you can't. Don't pick your own mushrooms. Even experienced collectors are sometimes fooled by poisonous mushrooms that closely resemble edible varieties. The rule among experts: When in doubt, throw it out.

The Mushroom Council offers the following tips on mushroom care:

  • Purchase firm mushrooms with a fresh, smooth appearance.

  • Surfaces should be plump and dry, but not dried out.

  • Look for the veil under the cap. A closed veil indicates a delicate flavor; an open veil and exposed gills mean a richer flavor.

How to store:

  • You may store mushrooms for up to one week in the refrigerator in the original packaging.

  • Store opened mushrooms in a breathable paper bag and avoid airtight containers, which cause condensation and quicken spoilage.

  • Don't freeze fresh mushrooms; instead, saute them, then freeze for up to one month.

How to clean:

  • Use a damp paper towel to brush off any dirt.

  • Briefly rinse fresh mushrooms under running water and pat dry. Never soak or submerge them, as they absorb moisture.

  • Trim the end of the stem before use.

Types of mushrooms

White buttons have a fairly mild taste and blend well with almost any other food. They can be served raw or cooked.

Shiitake, tasty and fairly easy to find, has little odor when fresh, but smells of ammonia if it starts to spoil. There are many varieties; some look frail, others meaty. A wrinkled cap is a sign of age. Discard the stem.

Portobello, often large, is sold whole and in slices. Baby portobellos are called cremini. The tops resemble brown suede. When they're young, the gills are grayish pink; older ones look like dark chocolate.

Oyster mushrooms may be gray, pale yellow, or even blue, with a velvety texture. Eat the whole mushroom, which has a nice texture and a bland flavor.

Enoki have long, thin, white stems joined at the base with a tiny button on top. Before using, trim roots at cluster base and separate the stems before serving. They make a good garnish but have little flavor. Boil them briefly and top a salad.

Maitake is sometimes called "hen of the woods" for its resemblance to a hen's fluffed tail feathers.

Enhancing mushroom flavor

Cooks say you can maximize mushroom flavor with a little salt, soy sauce, and sugar. Mushrooms will take on other flavors, such as garlic, onion, and herbs.

Recipes

Shiitake with Veal

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 lb. boneless veal cutlet, cut into bite-sized pieces

1/2 cup sliced shallots

1/2 lb. shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 tbsp. sherry (optional)

4 tbsp. low-fat sour cream

2 tbsp. chopped parsley, thyme or other herb

4 cups cooked farfalle or other chunky pasta

Heat oil in frying pan and brown veal quickly. Add shallots, stirring until wilted. Add shiitake mushrooms and sherry. Cover and cook five minutes at low temperature, until mushrooms release moisture. Turn off and stir in sour cream and herbs. Serve with noodles. Spinach would be a good side dish.

Serves four. Each serving contains approximately 467 calories, 32 g protein, 15 g fat, 49 g carbohydrates.

Duxelles

The classic French recipe for duxelles uses butter and shallots, but a little oil and onions works fine. The object is to cook the moisture out of the mushrooms and concentrate the flavor into a spread.

1 tbs. olive oil

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1 cup finely chopped mushrooms -- buttons, shiitake, and/or portobellos

Heat oil. Add onion and cook briefly. Add mushrooms and stir, cooking until the liquid the mushrooms give off has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Store in a closed container in refrigerator for a week or freeze.

Makes about 1/2 cup. One tbs. contains approximately 21 calories, less than 1 g protein, 1-1/2 g fat, 1 g carbohydrates.

Portobello Pizza

4 whole portobello caps, approximately 6 ounces

1/2 cup tomato sauce

5 ounces mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Wipe the caps clean of any dirt and brush lightly with oil. Place them on a baking dish, gill side up. Cover generously with sauce, then top with cheese. Place in the oven and bake for 6 to 8 minutes or until the cheese melts. Serve immediately.

Makes four servings. Each serving contains approximately 124 calories, 9 g protein, 7 g fat, 6 g carbohydrates.

Source: Portobello Cookbook, Artisan 1997

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