Oh mushrooms, how I love you. I can’t help but light up when I see you on a menu, my head involuntarily turns if I pass you by in a market or on someone’s plate, I daydream about all the ways to have you and when I see you tempting me with your myriad of guises, there is nothing I can do to resist you…
Ask me about desert islands or ‘can’t live withouts’, and you know my answer will be mushrooms. I love the way they transform a dish through their texture and earthiness. I love their link to lore and magic, and that they are dark and mysterious, with a hint of danger or the very real power to heal.
From ancient Egypt to the Greeks and Romans, mushrooms were considered the food of the gods and only the elite were allowed to consume them. In Asia, mushrooms have long been celebrated as immune and longevity tonics, and in European folklore, mushroom rings were often referred to as fairy (or elf, pixie or witch) rings, and were a sign that some magick had been in the making.
And mushrooms are simply fascinating in themselves. They lack chlorophyll to photosynthesise and instead take their nourishment from organic matter and decay (they are saprophytes). They can be all the colours of the rainbow and the most startling of shapes. In edible mushrooms, we eat the fruit of the fungus and its body is an entanglement of threads called mycelium, hiding underground. The mycelium are in turn made up of tiny filaments called hyphae, which spread out releasing enzymes which break down food so the fungi can absorb it.
As with anything with so much mystique attached, there are some cautions with mushrooms – there are many poisonous ones (and often they can look very similar to the edible ones) so don’t ever eat wild mushrooms without knowing exactly what they are. Mushrooms are also amazing detoxifiers and will absorb any toxins or heavy metals that contaminate an area, so know the area you are picking from.
Another interesting thing to note – there is no historical precedent for eating mushrooms raw and the wisdom of our elders must once again be applauded. Carcinogenic compounds that have been found in raw edible mushrooms are destroyed in cooking, so it’s wise to avoid any that aren’t cooked.
The most common edible mushrooms are chanterelles, cloud ears (wood ear), button (common), cremeni, enoki, field, maitake, matsutake, morel, mouserron, oyster, porcini (cepes), swiss browns (portobello), reishi, shiitake, straw and the delectable and wildly expensive truffle. I always buy swiss browns from Hamish at the farmer’s markets and put them in everything, buy up a flurry of oyster, enoki and shiitake mushrooms for my Asian dishes and occasionally visit the king of wild mushrooms (and a lovely, generous man) at Melbourne’s Prahran Markets for something special – this week I got fresh chanterelles and mouserrons. Simply cooked in butter, salt and pepper, and served over rice with some greens on the side – unbelievable!
The following recipe is from Mollie Katzen’s classic The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. I don’t use this book very much, and have only tried a small handful of recipes out of it, but I wanted something different – plus had some Tuscan kale to use up! The sauce is very light, quick and easy, and was a nice combination of flavours. I would add some chilli or cayenne pepper next time to give it some bite.
You can serve this with rice, quinoa or pasta, and make sure you get a good quality jar of artichoke hearts, as if there is too much vinegar in the marinade it will be too tart. I didn’t use any milks but if you prefer something creamy, I can imagine it goes quite well.
mushroom, kale and artichoke sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium brown onion, finely diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
350g mushroom, sliced
250g Tuscan kale (or spinach, silverbeet or other leafy green), roughly chopped
340g jar artichoke hearts – cut hearts into bite size and retain marinade
1 ½ tsp salt (or to taste)
1 tsp dried thyme (and/or sage, Italian herbs)
4 tbsp water, broth or white wine
1 tbsp unbleached flour
6 basil leaves, chopped roughly
pepper to taste
- Heat oil in saucepan or deep skillet – add onions and cook until just soft
- Add mushrooms, salt and dried herbs. Stir to combine and cover with a lid, cooking for around 5 minutes
- Then add your greens and garlic; cover and cook for a further 5 minutes
- Pour in the water/broth/wine and once it bubbles, sprinkle in the flour – stirring as you go. Cover and cook for 2 minutes until it thickens
- Add the artichokes, the liquid from the jars, black pepper, basil and milk/cream if using. Cook a further few minutes then remove from heat and serve.