Mushrooms: The Amazing Fungus Among Us
By Jenny Hammer
Technically, a mushroom is the fleshy, spore-bearing fruiting body of a fungus. Sounds awful, doesn’t it?
Who would think that eating fungus -- something that grows on decaying wood and other organic matter -- could be so delicious and nutritious? Mushrooms are amazing, and they’re available in such variety that you’ll never get tired of eating them.
Most of us know of brown button, white button, shiitake, and portobello/portabella mushrooms. Maybe you’ve used enoki mushrooms in soups. There are also oyster, reishi, maitake, chanterelles, crimini (baby portobellos), porcini, king trumpets, and many others, with prices for them varying all the way to black truffles (at $16.00+ per ounce!).
There are also dried mushrooms like tree ears, wood ears, and black fungus (usually sold in Asian markets), whose blood-thinning, anti-clot properties have been compared to those of the drug, warfarin (without the side effects).
Did you know that mushrooms are a non-animal/non-dairy source of vitamin D? That the compound, lentinan -- found in shiitake mushrooms -- may have a cholesterol-lowering action, as well as anti-tumor, antiviral, and immune-stimulating effects? That the largest living organism on the planet is not an elephant or a blue whale but a fungus growing in Oregon? This fungus is four square miles in area, but, apparently, the honey mushrooms it produces are not very tasty.
Market mushrooms, however, are tasty; they’re meaty and dense. They are also high in fiber, fat- and cholesterol-free, and full of minerals and vitamins that our bodies need, such as niacin and riboflavin (1/3 of the RDA for each in a one-cup serving), copper, selenium, folic acid, and biotin. They are low in calories and are a surprising protein source. In fact, as a percentage of calories, the protein content of mushrooms is 38% -- more than the percentage for beans (except soy), grains, nuts, most vegetables, and all fruit.
I recently purchased portobellos at Ranch 99 Market on Pearce Street in Richmond, but I’ve seen and bought many kinds of mushrooms at various local groceries and farmers markets. The latter is my favorite source as there’s no need to have imported mushrooms (from Canada) served up on a styrofoam tray and covered with plastic when those from local growers are fresher and more simply (and “greenly”) provided.
Because most mushrooms are grown indoors in controlled conditions, they are available year-round. The majority of grocery stores stocks the popular ones (portobello, button, shiitake -- with or without the tray and plastic). You can also grow your own. Fungi Perfecti (fungi.com), one of many sources, has indoor growing kits if you are botanically-inclined and have quite a bit of patience (first flushes of the mushrooms might take several months to begin!).
For cooking, mushrooms are very versatile. Simply sauté them in butter, wine, and a little salt and pepper. Or stuff them. Or grill them. Or chop them and add them to omelets, soups, casseroles, or gravies. They have a meat-like heft and texture, add a great earthy flavor, and are loaded with health-promoting nutrition.
Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms
Makes four servings.
What you’ll need:
8 large portobello mushrooms (about 3”- 4” in diameter)
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
6 cups, lightly packed, baby spinach
The Breadcrumb Topping
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups marinara sauce
The Goat Cheese
1 8-ounce log of soft chevre/goat cheese, chilled
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Wipe mushroom caps with a damp paper towel. Carefully cut out the stems (some people also like to scoop out the gills with a spoon). Place the mushrooms on a wire rack inside a shallow sheet pan. Place them with their gills facing down. Brush the caps with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 minutes. Set aside to cool. Next, wash and spin dry the baby spinach. Chop the shallot. In a large skillet, heat 1 T. olive oil and sauté the shallot, stirring frequently, for 3 to 4 minutes until translucent and soft. Add the spinach. Sauté on medium high heat until just wilted. Set aside. Next, in the same skillet, melt 2 T. butter over low heat. Add the other chopped shallot and cook for approximately 2 minutes, stirring continuously. Add the panko breadcrumbs and the garlic. Toast for three to four minutes, continuing to stir, until the breadcrumbs are a golden brown. Transfer to a large plate or shallow bowl. Next, reduce oven to 425 degrees. Turn the mushroom caps over on the wire rack, gills up. Cover each cap with marinara sauce. Add spinach/shallot mix on top. Next, slice the goat cheese into 1/2” thick slices. Flatten each slice a bit, maintaining the round shape.
Press the goat cheese slices into the panko mixture to coat them completely. Place goat cheese rounds on top of the spinach/shallot mix. Sprinkle on remaining breadcrumbs. Bake at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes, checking to make sure the breadcrumbs don’t burn. When the breadcrumbs are golden and the goat cheese is starting to melt, remove from the oven and serve immediately.