Mushrooms have been grown and used in Japan for 2,000 years. But settlers here in North America were much later in discovering the use and goodness of mushrooms. We are making up for that now and the variety of fresh mushrooms available in supermarkets has been steadily on the upswing, especially in the last 15 years. Presently, our produce sections routinely offer portobellos, “baby bellas” or cremini, and shiitake along with our domestic white button mushrooms.
In the ‘60s and ‘70s button mushrooms were used in sauces and gravies, sautéed with onions and peppers, and found in many a casserole and meatloaf.
It was only eight years ago that I discovered the goodness of the “Portabello Burger,” a marinated and grilled Portobello cap topped with melted cheese, lettuce, red onion and tomato and served on a bun. At that time I served them at a family reunion as a vegetarian choice, but they were more requested than the cheeseburger.
Slowly, I am discovering how to use shiitake and cremini in different recipes, such as in the second recipe below.
Mushrooms really do provide good flavor and if you are not familiar with them, I have included below some basic information about how and when to use.
I like these Portobellos as a main dish along with a salad. For a more substantial meal, use as a side dish alongside chicken or steak tips.
Roasted Portobello Caps
4 large Portobello mushrooms, stems removed
1/4 teaspoon salt, divided
Fresh ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup plain dry bread crumbs* (see below to make your own)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon olive oil
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. Place mushroom caps, gill-side up, on the pan. Sprinkle with one-eighth teaspoon salt and pepper. Roast until tender, about 20 minutes.
While cooking, combine bread crumbs, cheese, parsley, oil, and remaining salt and pepper in a small bowl.
Remove the mushrooms from the oven and top each cap with about 2 tablespoons of the bread crumb mixture, spreading evenly.
Return to the oven and roast until the bread crumbs are browned, about 5 minutes.
Turn this simple mushroom side dish into a main dish by tossing with cooked pasta and a generous handful of Parmesan cheese or fold into an omelet with Fontina or Swiss cheese.
11/2 to 2 slices bacon, chopped
11/2 pounds mixed mushrooms, such as cremini, stemmed shiitake, and Portobello, cut into quarter-inch slices.
2 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
11/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried.
1/4 teaspoon salt
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup dry white wine.
Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until just beginning to brown, about 4 minutes.
Add mushrooms, garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until almost dry, 8 to 10 minutes.
Pour in wine and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, another minute.
* Make Your Own Bread Crumbs:
4 slices of bread makes about 1 cup crumbs.
Dry bread in a 300 degree oven for approximately 10 to 15 minutes; about halfway through turn the slices over so they dry evenly.
Remove from oven and let cool.
Tear dried bread into smaller pieces and place in your food processor or blender. Process until desired coarseness.
I like to grind mine into a coarse texture. This way, if I need finer crumbs, I just regrind the amount needed when making my dish.
Tip: Onion rolls make a nicely flavored seasoned bread crumb.
Shiitakes are great for stir-fries. Remove their stems before using.
Oyster mushrooms — exotic-looking but relatively easy to cultivate — have a pleasant, mild flavor and a soft texture.
Cremini are actually baby versions of portobellos. Both have a bold and meaty flavor.
White or button mushroom, an old standby, is lightly flavored, mild enough to work just as well with rosemary as lemongrass.
Patricia Altomare invites feedback. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.