Fresh, locally cultivated mushrooms are popping up in farmers markets and co-ops — just like it's after a spring rain.
Though sold in the produce department, mushrooms are not classified as vegetables; they're technically part of the fungi kingdom. White and brown button, shiitake, cremini and the more mature portabella mushrooms are most familiar. Now you'll find fresh oyster, maitake, enoki, lion's mane (also known as pom pom), nameko, pioppono, porcini and more. Soon they'll be joined by wild morels foraged by local hunters, who will bring the woodsy flavors of the North Woods to our markets.
Mushrooms may differ in texture and flavor, but all varieties are rich in umami — that oft-forgotten, subtle "fifth taste" in seared beef, soy sauce and Parmesan cheese.
Most fresh mushrooms keep for seven to 10 days stored in a paper bag in the refrigerator, so be sure to remove any plastic once home. To prep fresh cultivated mushrooms, simply wipe them clean and trim off the tough stems (but save them for stock). Wild mushrooms need a quick rinse to rid them of any dirt.
The only mistake to make when cooking mushrooms is not cooking them long enough. For the richest flavor, use as many kinds of mushrooms as you can get. Give them a long, slow sauté in butter or oil — duck fat is even better — until they release their juices and become brown; they'll add a deep brawniness to any dish.
Make a big batch of these sautéed mushrooms to keep on hand for pasta, soups, pizza, polenta, and to pile onto buttered toast.
It's not difficult to find local mushrooms; look for them at farmers markets, co-ops, grocery stores and on restaurant menus. Take a look at these growers' websites for updates on varieties, cooking instructions and recipes.
Forest Mushrooms: The family-owned business in St. Joseph, Minn., has been growing and distributing mushrooms since 1985. Find them in several local grocery chains and co-ops, as well as their robust online store. forestmushrooms.com
Northwoods Mushrooms: Based in Clayton, Wis., Northwoods' mushrooms can be found in several local co-ops, and they also offer mushroom farm shares. northwoodmushrooms.com
R&R Cultivation: An urban farm in Roseville, R&R supplies mushrooms to local co-ops and Lunds & Byerlys. They're at farmers markets and have an online store and CSAs available, too. rrcultivation.com
Note: You can make this with ordinary white button or cremini mushrooms, but it's fun to try less familiar varieties. The larger mushrooms may need to be sliced. In today's recipe we've used a mix of shiitake, cremini, beech and oyster. From Beth Dooley.
• 2 lb. mixed cultivated fresh mushrooms (cremini, shiitake, oyster, etc.)
• 3 tbsp. unsalted butter, more as needed
• 1/4 c. finely chopped shallot
• 2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
• 2 small cloves garlic, minced
• 1/4 c. dry white wine or splash of white or red vinegar
• 1/2 c. chicken or vegetable stock
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
With a damp paper towel, wipe the mushrooms clean or quickly dunk in water and pat dry.
Heat a wide skillet over medium-high heat and add the butter, swirling the pan. When the butter begins to foam, toss in the shallots and mushrooms and cook, stirring, until the mushrooms have released their juices and are lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Add the thyme and garlic and stir to coat. Season well with the salt and pepper and continue to sauté for one more minute. Then add the wine or vinegar and the stock and continue cooking until the liquid has reduced by half, about 5 to 8 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
Serve over polenta, on toast or toss with pasta.
Dried vs. fresh mushrooms: If you don't have fresh mushrooms, dried mushrooms work well in this recipe, too. Allow 3 ounces of dried mushrooms for 1 pound of fresh mushrooms. Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl and add enough hot water to cover by 3 inches and soak for 30 minutes. Drain and reserve the soaking liquid to use as stock. Pat the mushrooms dry and proceed with the recipe.
Beth Dooley is the author of "In Winter's Kitchen." Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.