The Allure of the Edible Fungi. I am a big fan of mushrooms in all shapes and sizes. Mushrooms can be delicious, deadly, magical, intoxicating and mysterious. Growing up the only kind of mushroom that we had was the common white button mushroom. My mom was not much for venturing out on the wild side when it came to food. As I matured and moved out on my own I broadened my adventures in food and discovered all sorts of mushrooms that I have grown to love. Mushrooms are so versatile. What appears to sometimes be a dirty gnarly looking thing that could be perceived questionable to eat elevates a meal to another level. My featured food this week does just that. These beauties are packed with flavor taking a stuffed mushroom to another level. But first a little history…
Throughout history mushrooms have gained many varying reputations, considered both food and foe. Thank goodness today it is easy for us to find safe, tasty mushrooms at the grocery store, but it wasn’t always this way.
Over the years reckless mushroom hunters have thrown caution to the wind with sometimes fatal results, giving food-safe mushrooms a bad reputation. It’s resulted in two very different categories of people—mycophiles (those who love mushrooms) and mycophobes (those who fear mushrooms). Then there are folks like me, who fall somewhere between adoration and trepidation. I enjoy mushrooms of many varieties, but I’ve heard enough horror stories about them to be cautious; you won’t see me harvesting the ones that I find growing in the woods in my backyard.
As we have become more familiar with their many different species, mushrooms have become less forbidding. As we have moved to more locally sourced food and foraging, the allure of the mushroom is more popular now than ever.
It seems that mushrooms have been lumped into the vegetable category even though we all know it’s a fungus. The most commonly consumed variety is the button mushroom, or Agaricus bisporus, which makes up about 40 percent of the mushrooms grown around the world. The name “mushroom” has been given to over 38,000 varieties of fungus that possess the same threadlike roots and cap. These threads, sometimes referred to as “gills,” are responsible for giving mushrooms like portobellos their meaty taste and texture. As air passes through the threads moisture evaporates, giving the mushroom a rich heartiness you can really sink your teeth into.
A great deal of the mystery surrounding mushrooms stems from their association with poisonings and accidental deaths. The famous French philosopher Voltaire was once quoted as saying, “A dish of mushrooms changed the destiny of Europe.” He was referring to the War of Austrian Succession that followed the death of Holy Roman Emperor King Charles VI. The king’s untimely demise may have been a result of eating amanita, or “death cap,” mushrooms. On the other hand, mushrooms have also been praised for their medicinal properties thanks to their heavy dose of protein, potassium and polysaccharides, which contribute to healthy immune function.
Of course, you can’t have a conversation about mushrooms without touching on the intoxicating variety. Though we may associate hallucinogenic mushrooms with the culture of the 1960s, archaeological evidence suggests that these types of mushrooms served religious and spiritual purposes centuries earlier. Siberian shamans and Vikings are believed to have consumed hallucinogenic fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) mushrooms during religious ceremonies. According to the Mixtec Vienna Codex (13-15 centuries AD), mind-altering mushrooms were used in religious ceremonies in ancient Mexico. Roman Catholic priests also observed and recorded the consumption of hallucinogenic mushrooms by native peoples after the conquest of Mexico in 1519. After the effects of the mushrooms had worn off, the natives would discuss their visions of the future. We now know that these effects were not caused by magic, but rather by the psilocybin and psilocin found in some mushrooms.
For centuries relatively little was known about mushrooms, and for a long time the Eastern half of the world was considered mostly mycophilic, and the West mycophobic. This all changed when the French introduced mushrooms into their haute cuisine. It wasn’t long before the rest of the world began to embrace the mushroom. By the late 19th century, Americans were cooking up mushrooms in their own kitchens. Prior to this time, mushrooms were mainly reserved for use in condiments. Inspired by the French, Americans took mushrooms to a whole new level of devotion. Clubs dedicated to foraging, identifying and cooking various varieties of fungi began popping up all over the country. Even today, locally foraged mushrooms are worth their weight in gold… just ask any mushroom hunter in search of morels after a spring rain shower.
If there is a crown jewel in the realm of fungi, it is the truffle, which happens to be my absolute favorite! Truffles, referred to as the “diamond of the kitchen” by famous French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, are one of the most expensive foods in the world.
They grow near tree roots, most often oak, hazel, beech and chestnut, about 3-12 inches below ground. They are sniffed out by dogs and pigs that have been trained to recognize the truffle’s distinct odor. Once a truffle has been located, the trufficulteur (truffle farmer) will very carefully clean the surrounding area to check for ripeness. It is important to never touch the truffle with your bare hands, as this can cause the precious fungi to rot. If the truffle is not yet ripe for the picking, it is recovered and left to reach maturity. This long and labor-intensive process is the reason behind the hefty price tag.
To Clean or Not to Clean
There is a lot of varying thoughts when it comes to cleaning mushrooms. I tend to follow this school of thought.
If you’re eating them raw
If you are using mushrooms over a salad? You want to keep them as dry as possible, as waterlogged raw mushrooms are especially unpleasant. Keep in mind that many cultivated mushrooms are actually not that dirty. If you see a little dirt, use a dry mushroom brush or dry paper towel to gently rub off any dusty or muddy bits. A paring knife can be used for any crusty dirt clods. If they still seem sullied, moisten a paper towel slightly and give it a go. Avoid running water over them unless you absolutely have to.
If you plan on cooking the mushrooms
If sautéing, baking, or roasting mushrooms is your plan, you have a little more leeway on how wet they can get. But sodden mushrooms will steam rather than brown, so make sure you use as little water as possible, and cook them right after washing them.
When pondering my recipe choices this week I decided to use whatever I had on hand instead of venturing out to add to my ingredient options. These stuffed mushrooms have a spicy sausage, goat cheese with truffles, white wine and fresh thyme. (I could barely get the pictures taken. My husband was hovering waiting to get the go ahead to eat).
Because mushrooms shrink when they are cooked, you want to make sure that you get big mushrooms.
Too often stuffed mushrooms are leathery and dried out with bland, watery filling. To get rid of excess moisture before stuffing, I roasted the mushrooms gill side up until their juice was released and they browned; then I flipped them gill side down to let the liquid evaporate. The result is a meaty-textured mushroom ready for stuffing. To create the filling, I browned the sausage, chopped the mushroom stems in the food processor and sautéed them with garlic and wine. Cheese binds the filling together, and a final hit of acid brightens the earthy, savory flavor. Once stuffed, the mushrooms need only another brief stint in the oven before they’re ready to eat.
Looking for great wine pairings to go with this dish…
Red Wine Lovers: Nebbiolo or Sangiovese Classico
White Wine Lovers: Pinot Grigio or Verdicchio
I hope you will try and enjoy!
Keepin it Fresh!
Spicy Sausage, Truffle Goat Cheese, and Thyme Stuffed Mushrooms
- July 18, 2019
- 40 min
- 63 Cals/Serving
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- 1 cup ground spicy Pork Sausage (browned)
- 24 large white mushrooms (1 3/4 to 2 inches in diameter), stems removed and reserved
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon Kosher Salt
- ¼ teaspoon Black Pepper (divided)
- 1 small Shallot, minced
- 2 Garlic Cloves, minced
- ¼ cup Dry White Wine
- ½ cup Spring Truffle Percorino Cheese (grated)
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh Thyme
- 1 teaspoon Lemon Juice
- Step 1
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Brush mushroom caps with 2 tablespoons oil, and season with ¼ teaspoon salt, and ⅛ teaspoon pepper in large bowl.
- Step 2
- Arrange caps gill side up on prepared sheet and roast until juice is released, about 20 minutes. Flip caps and roast until well browned, about 10 minutes and set aside.
- Step 3
- Pulse reserved Stems, Shallot, Garlic, and ⅛ teaspoon Pepper in food processor until finely chopped, 10 to 14 pulses and set aside.
- Step 4
- Brown spicy Pork Sausage drain and set aside.
- Step 5
- Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in 8-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add stem mixture and sausage to skillet and cook until golden brown and moisture has evaporated, about 5 minutes.
- Step 6
- Add wine and cook until nearly evaporated and mixture thickens slightly, about 1 minute.
- Step 7
- Transfer to bowl and let cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Stir in Spring Truffle Percorino Cheese, Thyme, and Lemon Juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Step 8
- Flip caps gill side up. Divide stuffing evenly among caps. (Stuffed caps can be refrigerated for 1 day (increase baking time to 10 to 15 minutes.) Return caps to oven and bake until stuffing is heated through, 5 to 7 minutes. Serve.