There's an art to cooking mushroomsBy Zester Daily Staff
Monday is the Day of the Mushroom, for those who celebrate food-centric holidays.
With so many varieties -- cultivated and wild -- and so many recipes from around the world, there's no excuse not to mark the occasion with your favorite fungus.
Caesar's Mushrooms from Tuscany
Amanita caesarea -- otherwise known as Caesar's mushroom -- is called "the king's mushroom," and it's native to the wildwood of southern Europe, including the oak and chestnut woods of Italy and the chestnut and pinewoods of northern Spain. The Romans loved it, modern Italians adore it, and the Catalans and Basques pay ridiculously high prices for it in the markets of Barcelona and San Sebastian.
How to sort out what's good and what's dangerous
A. caesarea belongs to an untrustworthy family, the agarics or amanitas, which might account for the caution with which it's treated in other regions to which it is native.
Although its parchment-tinted flesh, glowing orange cap and generous basal-bulb makes it easy to distinguish from other members of the clan, many mushrooms in this family are highly toxic. Some even come with a warning in their names.
In Tuscany, Caesar's mushroom is eaten raw and young. Once supplies are found or purchased, don't delay -- the shiny balls continue to develop even when plucked from their beds. The flesh is firm and a little elastic and holds its shape under the knife.
Among the Basques, where A. caesarea is known as kuleto, the first of the crop is gathered at the end of August and the season runs till the first frosts. In the men-only cooking clubs of the region, you might find them in a delicate dish of scrambled eggs served as an appetizer for the national dish, marmitako, a fabulous tuna fish stew.
Basque Scrambled Eggs With Caesar's Mushrooms
About 1 pound / 500 g Amanita caesarea or any wild-gathered fungi
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
8 free-range eggs
Thickly-sliced country-style bread
1. Wipe the mushrooms with a damp cloth to remove any loose dirt, then remove the volva and trim and slice the stalks. Break the caps up into smallish pieces with your fingers. Heat a frying pan and add a little olive oil. Wait till it's hot, then add the mushroom pieces and sprinkle with a little salt. Cook on moderate heat till the mushrooms yield up their liquid and begin to sizzle.
2. Meanwhile, lightly beat the eggs together in a bowl with a fork (don't mix too vigorously), then stir the mixture into the mushrooms as soon as the mushrooms begin to sizzle (don't let them brown). Fold them over the heat for a minute or two with a wooden spoon until just creamy. (Remove before the eggs begin to set.)
3. Serve immediately on slices of bread brushed with the rest of the olive oil and toasted on a dry pan.
Contributing: Elisabeth Luard.
The perfect combination -- Mushrooms and rice
Once you master the technique for making classic risotto, you will find that it becomes a welcome entrée almost any night of the week.
And the beauty of this creamy, starchy dish is that it can be accompanied by almost any fresh stir-in ingredients you have on hand, from asparagus to peas to mushrooms.
1 ounce (about 1 heaped cup) dried mushrooms, preferably porcinis
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon soy sauce (optional)
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil, or 1 tablespoon each
½ cup minced onion
1 pound fresh cultivated or wild mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and cut in thick slices
2 large garlic cloves, minced
½ to 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, or ¼ to ½ teaspoon dried thyme, to taste
1½ cups arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
1 to 2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (¼ to ½ cup)
Freshly ground pepper
1. Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl or in a large Pyrex measuring cup and pour in 3 cups boiling-hot water. Let sit for 30 minutes. Line a strainer with cheesecloth or with a double thickness of paper towels, place it over a bowl and drain the mushrooms. Squeeze the mushrooms over the strainer to extract all the liquid, then rinse them in several changes of water to remove sand. Chop coarsely and set aside. Combine the mushroom soaking liquid with enough stock to make 7 cups. Add the soy sauce and salt to taste. Transfer to a saucepan and bring to a simmer.
2. Heat one tablespoon of the oil or butter over medium heat in a large nonstick frying pan and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until the onion begins to soften, about 3 minutes, and add the dried and fresh mushrooms. Cook, stirring, until the mushrooms begin to release liquid. Add the garlic and thyme. Cook, stirring, until the mushroom liquid has just about evaporated, and add the remaining oil and the rice. Cook, stirring, until the grains of rice are separate and beginning to crackle. Add the wine and stir until it has evaporated and been absorbed by the rice. Begin adding the simmering stock, a couple of ladlefuls (about ½ cup) at a time. The stock should just cover the rice, and should be bubbling, not too slowly but not too quickly. Cook, stirring often, until it is just about absorbed. Add another ladleful or two of the stock and continue to cook in this fashion, adding more stock and stirring when the rice is almost dry. You do not have to stir constantly, but stir often to enable the rice to release its starch. When the rice is just tender all the way through but still chewy, in 20 to 25 minutes, it is done. Taste now and adjust seasoning.
3. Add another ladleful or two of stock to the rice. Stir in the parsley and Parmesan and remove from the heat. The mixture should be creamy (add more stock if it isn't). Serve right away in wide soup bowls or on plates, spreading the risotto in a thin layer rather than piling it into a mound.
Contributing: Martha Rose Shulman.
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