The Magic of (Dried) Mushrooms
Mushrooms are loaded with nutrients and have high water content (which makes them filling). They’re low in calories, with an earthy, nutty flavor and umami—a Japanese word that translates to “savory” or “meaty.” Umami was identified in the early 1900s and has been gaining in popularity in recent years. The rich, silky taste is associated with glutamate, originally found in a type of seaweed used to make soup in Japan. Umami (and glutamate) is also found in meat, seafood, soup stocks, tomatoes, cheese, soy sauce, fish sauce, miso and many other foods I always keep in my pantry. Nutritional yeast extracts found in health-food stores can also boost umami flavors – a healthy way to add richness without slathering dishes in fats.
But back to mushrooms. Whether enjoyed as an addition to salads and stir-fries, they’re also delicious when stuffed and baked. Large mushrooms are excellent when grilled and make a great replacement for meat in a veggie burger.
When buying fresh mushrooms, make sure they are firm. Store them, wrapped loosely in plastic, in the refrigerator. Before use, wipe them with a damp paper towel or, if necessary, rinse them with cold water and dry them thoroughly so they don’t get mushy. A few widely available types to try:
• White mushrooms are the most common, with caps ranging from half an inch to three inches. They can be used whole or sliced.
• Cremini mushrooms are darker brown versions of the everyday white variety and have a slightly fuller flavor.
• Portobello mushrooms are a fully matured form of cremini mushrooms – the different name being the result of a 1980s marketing campaign. The Portobello mushroom is extremely large, with a cap measuring up to six inches in diameter. Since all the gills of the cap are exposed (which speeds water loss), the flavors are more concentrated, and the texture is dense and meaty – making it ideal for grilling as a burger alternative.
• Oyster mushrooms are fan-shaped, with smallish grey caps; young mushrooms with caps less than an inch in diameter are considered best and pack a powerful flavor punch.
• Chanterelle Mushrooms – Probably the most popular of wild mushrooms, I prefer the safety of buying my chanterelles rather than foraging for them. They have a funnel shape with a long stem and are usually light golden in color (but can also be white or orange). Their flavor is meaty yet delicate. I can’t say enough about them, other than I try to cook them simply without adulterating or masking their luscious flavor. They’re also available in dried form.
• Shiitake Mushrooms – native to Asia, shiitakes are as popular in traditional Eastern medicine as they are in the kitchen. They are also cultivated in the U.S., which has increased their popularity and decreased their price. I know customers sometimes shy away from the seemingly high price per pound of mushrooms in the grocery store, but a pound of mushrooms is a whole lotta mushrooms. If you add a handful of mushrooms to a nice dinner for two, you’ll only be paying for a few ounces. The stems of the shiitake are fibrous and should be discarded; the caps are firm, meaty, and loaded with flavor. They are available in dried form as well.
• Porcini – this Italian mushroom derives from the word porcine, as in hog mushroom. It has a traditional mushroom shape with a cap typically range from 1 to 3 inches across and a long white stem. Although the name is Italian, they’re also cultivated in Europe, New Zealand, South Africa, and the U.S. They are considered meaty in texture with a rich earthy, nutty flavor. They are also available dried.
The dried form of mushrooms is a valuable pantry staple when you want to add mushrooms to your sauce or soup, and you don’t have any fresh ones on hand. And because they are dehydrated, they add a powerful flavor punch due to the high concentration of umami. To use them, you can soak in water to reconstitute for a half-hour before using. But the recipe I’m sharing today is for super-duper flavor boosters you can keep in your kitchen, as I do, to add a last-minute oomph to your cooking when you need a little nudge to coax your flavors from ho-hum to voila!
I love keeping dried mushroom powders as well as dried tomato powders in my fridge because they only take a few minutes to prepare, only a small amount is required in most recipes, and they keep for months and more. (There is usually an expiration date on the dried tomato or mushroom package, which you can transfer and record on your jars of dried flavor heaven.
Additionally, I’m sharing a great vinaigrette recipe that is quick and easy and allows for easy substitutions in terms of different oils or vinegars. I chose to use champagne vinegar because it’s light, not overly acidic, and its subtle flavor allows the umami ingredients to shine through and make a memorable salad.
Yield: ¼ cup
Place mushrooms in a spice grinder or small food processor bowl and grind to a powder. Store in a spice jar. Refrigerate.
Yield: 2/3 cup
1 (3 ounce) package Melissa’s Dried Red tomatoes
Place tomatoes in a spice grinder or small food processor bowl and grind to a powder. Store in a spice jar. Refrigerate.
Makes 1 cup
3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
1 teaspoon Mushroom Powder (I used dried chanterelles in this recipe)
1 teaspoon Tomato Powder
3/4 teaspoon Red Boat* salt (or sea salt)
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
Measure all ingredients into a small jar. Cover and shake well. Let rest at least an hour (but preferably overnight) before using.
Makes 1 cup. Store in the refrigerator.
*Red Boat salt is a branded anchovy salt made as a byproduct of anchovy fish sauce. Dried anchovies are umami bombs!
Mushroom Pasta with Rapini and Parmesan
This is one of the few recipes in my book that takes a little extra time to make. But once you taste the homemade mushroom pasta, you won’t have a single regret about the extra minutes. You’ll definitely make this one again.
Yield: 4 servings
For the pasta
1 ½ cups white whole wheat flour (King Arthur brand)
2 (0.5 ounce) packages Melissa’s dried porcini (or shiitake or chanterelle) mushrooms, ground to fine powder in a spice grinder (about ½ cup)
3/4 teaspoon Melissa’s Italian seasoning grinders
For the vegetables
1 T olive oil
4 ounces cremini or brown or chanterelle mushrooms, roughly chopped
6 shiitake mushrooms, sliced (stems removed and discarded)
½ cup chicken broth or vegetable broth
8 ounces broccolli raab or broccollini, cut in 2 inch lengths and blanched
Grated Parmesan cheese
To make the pasta
Mound the flour, mushroom powder and seasonings on a clean work surface and make a large deep well into the center. Crack the eggs into the well.
Gradually incorporate the flour from the sides of the well into the eggs. Work the ingredients together until it forms a rough and sticky ball. If dough is too sticky, add a small amount of flour. If dough is too dry, add a few drops of cold water.
Scrape the dough that sticks to the countertop or cutting board and press the dough into a rough ball and knead for about 5 minutes. Dough should be very smooth and elastic. There will be about 14 ounces of pasta dough.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes at room temperature.
Unwrap the ball of dough and cut into 4 pieces keeping the remainder wrapped in plastic wrap. Flatten the piece of dough into a rough rectangle.
Following your pasta machine manufacturer's instructions, feed the flattened piece of dough into the machine. Fold the dough into thirds, and then feed again into the machine. Repeat folding and rolling two additional times.
Increase the roller setting one notch. Sprinkle the pasta lightly with flour if necessary (may not be needed) and feed through the rollers again, unfolded.
Turn the roller setting another notch and repeat the rolling, then continue without folding the dough until you get to the 5th setting. Repeat with remaining pieces of dough.
Cut the pasta into tagliatelle or fettuccine. Set aside.
To make the pasta with porcinis
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and add salt.
Heat olive oil over medium-heat and add shallots and mushrooms.
Cook for 5 minutes until mushrooms and onions are soft but not browned..
Add 1/2 cup broth and season. Turn heat to low and stir.
Place fresh pasta into boiling water and cook until al dente. Watch the pasta carefully because it takes only two to three minutes for the pasta to cook to al dente.
Add rapini and mushrooms to hot pasta. Toss and divide between four plates.
Top with fresh parsley and grated cheese.