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Putting the Fun in Fungiculture, Year-Round

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MUSHROOMS VITAMIN D
Paul Stamets
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A mushroom walks into a bar.
"Hey, you can't come into this bar!" says the bouncer. "You're a mushroom!"
"Oh come on," replies the mushroom. "I'm a fun-gi!"

The defensive mushroom makes a fair point. Save the button and crimini, the more exotic mushroom varieties -- petal-esque, gill-like, tentaclish -- are often disregarded by the commonplace shopper, perceived as unapproachable lest a cloak of mystery and abstruseness.
"White button variety is the biggest seller, because people are used to it," says third-generation mushroom farmer Joseph Bulich. And the consequent fate of the chanterelle, oyster, hen of the wood, and morel? Blame the shadowy dwellings, poisonous potential, or obscure shapes of these sphinxlike spores -- plus their elitist illusion -- and most home-cooks are content leaving their preparation to the professionals.

But, as the mushroom asserted himself, these little woody-fragranced, meaty-fleshed guys are FUN! From the occasional cook to the professional chef, the salubrious spores can be enjoyed by all. And while the season for wild mushrooms technically ends in late autumn, New Yorkers are in luck -- Bulich Mushroom Farm organically cultivates mushrooms in temperature-controlled barns year-round, waking up at 3:15 a.m. every Saturday morning (eek!) to deliver white buttons, criminis, oysters, and shiitakes fresh to the Union Square Greenmarket from their home in the Catskills. Vegivores and locavores alike, rejoice!

At Bulich Farms, mushrooms are picked the day before market, yielding a crop with such expansive flavors, textures and culinary artifice that their biggest commonality is probably freshness. Shiitakes are grown off of oak logs to produce a woodsy, "chickeny" flavor, while the oyster mushroom is more seafood nuanced, like a scallop. The baby portabellas, or crimini's, shine in soups and omelets. The first two flourish in flavor post-cooking, while the latter is delightful eaten raw too.

The varied chemical make-up of each mushroom kind makes preparation important. With fat-soluble flavor compounds, the more delicate mushrooms like chantarelles, oysters, and shiitakes are optimal for sautéing in butter, oil, or cream. Their sponge-like affection also lends them well to cooking alcohol such as wine or sherry. For a special treat, whole-roast your oysters: Bulich Farm cultivates theirs in wholesome, beautiful bunches; this method preserves their lovely natural shape.

Because your foraged specialties like chantarelle and oyster can be a bit pricey -- $29.99 for a pound of the golden (in color and price) chantarelles, yikes! -- I recommend mixing together a few types of mushrooms in your dish, as to avoid breaking the bank and to expose the full spectrum of flavors each has to offer. At the farmers market, Bulich Farm mushrooms range from $5 to $12 a pound.

While the wild mushroom's complex, rich earthiness can be beautifully showcased in many a dish, I invite you to share its palatable flavors with others in this Wild Mushroom Bruschetta holiday hors d'oeuvre. Piquant and savory in a sherry reduction seasoned with fresh parsley and thyme, the bruschetta boasts the heartiest of tastes, yielding quite the Epicurean experience -- one, as seen by this recipe, that is best received with a clean, milky chèvre, crunchy crostini, and glass of full-bodied wine.

Shall we raise that glass and make a toast to your mushroom? Here's to being a fun-gi.

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Wild Mushroom Bruschetta
Yield: about 1 1/2 cup bruschetta; enough to top 30 crostini

Ingredients:
1 Tbsp. butter, divided
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, minced
2 cups wild mushrooms, (such as chanterelle, oyster, porcini, and/or crimini)
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ cup white wine or sherry
2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 Tsp. fresh thyme
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 large French baguette, cut diagonally into ½-inch slices and toasted
5 oz. goat cheese

Directions:
1. In a large saucepan, melt ½ tablespoon butter with the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook, just until it begins to soften, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Add the mushrooms, stirring often, until the mushrooms are wilted, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme, then the wine or sherry and cook over low heat for several minutes, until liquid is reduced and syrupy. Stir in remaining butter (optional) and parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.

2. Spread the goat cheese over the toasted bread slices, and then top with warm mushrooms. Serve immediately, and preferably with a glass of wine.

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