taming of the ‘shrooms…

I used to not like mushrooms as much as I do now. When I was a kid, my middle school class went on a field trip to a mushroom farm in Northern California. Having grown up in a large metropolitan area, I thought mushrooms came from large, brightly lit grocery stores.

Two significant things were discovered by me that day: mushrooms were a fungus and were grown in poop. And not just any kind, but cow manure. At that place and time, I decided to discontinue eating ‘shrooms. My pizzas will now have one less topping.

It wasn’t until my later teens did I realize the error in my judgement. Not all mushrooms grew on dung—some thrived in rotting wood, dead leaves, or any decaying organic material for that matter. Whew! Millions of people eat mushrooms daily and surely they can’t be that. bad. Or gross…

Thankfully, I have since changed my way of thinking. Mushrooms have found their way back on to my plate and on my favorite foods list. Raw, sauteéd, grilled, or stuffed, I eat ’em all with pride and gusto.

Because of their earthy flavors and substantial texture, I often have them whenever I feel like going meatless. For example, the meaty portabello has replaced steak when I make paninis and starred in countless pasta dishes.

One of those, pasta al funghi, is my favorite. My version is pretty much a mix of different mushrooms—chosen for their flavor, shape, and texture. The combination I normally do is portabello, shiitake, crimini, porcini, chanterelle, and oyster. My local grocer has these, and many others, readily available and are mostly organic.

I love how the subtle differences in each adds to the overall quality and depth of the dish. The portabello for its thick and meaty texture, the chanterelle’s fruity and spicy undertones, and the nutty and creamy flavors of the porcini combined makes for a very complex and satisfying eats.

Like eggplants, mushrooms have this ability to soak up a lot of the liquid, so washing them in water. Instead, I like to take a kitchen towel soaked in warm water and gently wipe of any residual dirt, carefully avoid bruising them.

The sauce consists of sauteéing shallots and garlic in butter and olive oil until they soften.  Mushrooms are added shortly after and the sauce is thickened with cream and freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Toss the sauce in pasta—I like using the spiral-shaped rotini because the sauce will stick into the little twists. Then sprinkle fresh parsley and more cheese on top and you got yourself a winner.

This dish is great for a fall evening meal and is quick to prepare.

After my self-imposed boycott, the mushrooms and I have an agreement: I will be perfectly happy eating them just as long as they don’t tell me how they came to be.

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