Fruits of the earth.
Fall is mushroom time and a colorful variety is available now at the farmers' markets and grocery stores. The choice by color, flavor and shape make them a fun way to explore fall cooking. Look for golden chanterelles, orangey red lobsters, feathery white and brown maitake or hen of the woods that look like a homecoming chrysanthemum corsage, as well as many others.
Almost all eventually will fade to taupe as they cook, though the orangey red lobsters can leave colorful juices in the pan.
If you're in doubt as to how to use less familiar varieties in cooking, ask the farmer/forager or the produce people at the market.
When storing mushrooms, cool and dry is the way to go, but not too cold or too dry. If you buy packaged mushrooms, you can keep them in the packaging because it's meant to keep the mushrooms at their peak.
Mushrooms need air to circulate around them, but not so much that they dry out. Try a bowl with plastic wrap or waxed paper loosely draped over the top or in a sturdy plastic storage bag kept half open. Don't clean them until right before you use them.
To clean, wipe off surface dirt with a soft cloth. A soft brush or a tooth brush can clean dirty crevices. If there's any stubborn dirt trapped in hard-to-get-to places, swish the mushrooms in water but don't let them soak.
In general, sauting in butter or oil is a good way to start. If you cook them in an uncrowded pan on medium high, you'll get browning and drier mushrooms. A low heat and crowded pan makes them softer and they'll let off more liquid.
Cooked mushrooms hold onto their chewy texture, remaining distinct. The upside is that chewiness is very satisfying and almost meaty. The downside is that it's hard to hide them, even finely chopped, from mushroom haters. (There's a distinction between not liking a food and having allergy issues. Make sure if you're hiding an ingredient that it isn't one that will cause problems.)
Mushrooms can stand up to strongly flavored ingredients, such as beef, pork, game and chicken, especially in a hearty stew. Wine is a natural with mushrooms, as is cream. Often both. Think of Boeuf Bourguignon, Chicken Marsala or Cream of Mushroom soup.
Use a non-hoppy beer to make a meat or chicken mushroom stew to serve over potatoes, noodles or polenta.
With their insistent chewy texture and robust flavors, mushrooms can star in a vegetarian or vegan version of those dishes that omnivores will enjoy as well.
Prepare these three recipes with wild as well as cultivated mushrooms. Feel free to use any mushroom variety or a combination of your favorites. Even the plain white button mushrooms or brown creminis, which are baby portobellos, can be elevated when browned in a generous amount of butter. Use them to stretch a pricier variety or to add a different flavor to the mix.
The Mushroom Phyllo Rolls are a quick and much easier way to use phyllo pastry, rather than folding them into triangles. You can freeze the unbaked rolls and bake them any time you need a quick hors d'oeuvre.
The Potato Mushroom Mash can be served as a side dish or thinned into a soup with chicken, vegetable broth or milk. Leftover mash can be turned into potato cakes, with some added grated Parmesan or other cheese. Coat with Panko bread crumbs and saut in butter or oil until browned and crisp.
If you're going to use fancy mushrooms, pair them with fresh pasta. Fresh Pasta with Mushrooms is simple to assemble and the few ingredients make this a very quick dinner or lunch. You could add in some cooked Italian sausage and a dash of red pepper flakes to make it even heartier.
Mushroom Phyllo Rolls
3 tablespoons butter, olive oil or a combination of both
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
11/2 pounds button or cremini mushrooms, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon dry thyme
1/4 cup dry white wine, such as a pinot grigio
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 package phyllo dough, thawed
1/2 cup melted butter, cooled a little
Heat butter or oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until golden. Add mushrooms and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook, stirring, until the mushrooms are very soft and have exuded their liquid. Add thyme and deglaze pan with wine. Remove from heat, stir in sour cream and check for seasoning. Set aside to cool.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Open one package of phyllo dough and lay it out flat. Cover with plastic wrap. Lay out one sheet of phyllo on the work surface. Brush lightly with melted butter. Make another layer of phyllo and butter. Place a third sheet of phyllo on top.
If your phyllo sheets aren't all intact, if you use a whole sheet on the bottom layer, you can use torn sheets for the next two layers. Stagger the breaks from layer to layer.
About a half inch in from one of the long sides, make a 3/4-inch line of mushroom mixture. Beginning at the mushroom edge, roll the dough snugly. Place on baking sheet. Score the top at 1-inch intervals. Brush with melted butter.
Bake about 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Cut through the roll on score lines and serve.
To make ahead: Roll and score. Wrap each roll in plastic wrap and place in a freezer container. Don't thaw before baking. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet, brush with butter and bake until golden. Cut through at score marks and serve.
One variation is to make a much larger roll, using all of the mushrooms in one batch. Score roll in fourths. Bake until golden. Serve as a main dish with salad.
Potato Mushroom Mash
11/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled or not
1 bay leaf
4 tablespoons butter or olive oil (plus more for the potatoes)
1/2 pound chanterelle mushrooms, cleaned and cut into pieces
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup whole milk or half and half, warmed
Fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Wash the potatoes and cut them into quarters. (The pieces should be the same size to cook in the same time, so larger potatoes will need more cutting.) Put them in a pot of cold water with a bay leaf. Bring to a boil and cook until tender.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until tender and browned around the edges. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
When the potatoes are tender, drain and return to pot. Heat until remaining water evaporates. Turn heat to very low. Add 1 teaspoon salt and some pepper then mash the potatoes to as smooth as you like, though a chunky mash is nice here. Add half of the milk and stir well, adding more milk if it's too thick. Add as much butter as you dare. Stir in mushrooms and all of their accumulated juices. Fold in and taste for seasoning. Serve garnished with parsley. Serves 4 to 6.
Fresh Pasta with Mushrooms
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for serving
1 pound mushrooms (one variety or a mixture), cut into manageable eating pieces
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup dry white wine, such as a pinot grigio
1 bag fresh baby spinach
1 pound fresh pasta, preferably a wider width
8 ounces mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
Put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta. In a large saut pan, melt the butter and oil over medium high heat. Add mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often, until browning around the edges, about 5 to 10 minutes. Deglaze the pan with wine. Taste for salt and pepper. Set aside but keep warm.
Put spinach in the bottom of the colander you'll use to drain the pasta. Salt the boiling water and cook the pasta until al dente. Drain on top of spinach to wilt it. Divide pasta and spinach in four pasta bowls. Place 5 or 6 dollops of mascarpone on each serving. Divide the mushrooms and any accumulated juices among the plates. Top with shavings of Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Serves 4. CULINARY DEMOS The Cascade Mycological Society and Mount Pisgah Arboretum are sponsoring a set of culinary demos at the arboretum's Mushroom Festival, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, 34901 Frank Parrish Road. Food writer Jennifer Burns Bright emcees the following line-up: Weird and Delicious Cauliflower Mushrooms. Mark Kosmicki, chef and owner of Party Downtown, and Jonathan Tepperman, proprietor of DirtLab BushCraft and Eugene Meat Collective take on cauliflower mushrooms from 11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Fee Fi Fo Fum: Garden Giants. Jennifer Macone, co-owner of The Mushroomery, talks about growing and cooking with mushrooms, from noon to 12:30 p.m. Perfecting Italian Arancini. Marie Simmons, cookbook author of "Whole World Vegetarian" shows how to make Mushroom Rice Balls from 1 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Good Basic Mushroom Soup. The soup is on with Kim Leval, a freelance writer and the executive director of NW Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, from 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Preserving Wild Mushrooms. Matthew Kilger, proprietor of Eating Oregon, demonstrates preserving techniques from 3 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Wild Mushroom Potstickers. Heather Sielicki, a Cascade Mycological Society board member, makes potstickers from 4 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.