North Fork Chef: Mighty mouth-watering mushrooms

Said the mushroom to the oak, “You’re very slow!
I dare say it’s ’most a year
That you’ve been growing here —
And I began not quite two days ago!”

Said the oak tree, rustling gently, “That is true,
Through many a winter’s snow,
And many a summer’s glow,
I’ve watched the growth of tiny things like you.”
‘The Mushroom and the Oak’ by G.K.

Unlike the tree, mushrooms grow very fast and can be cultivated in as little as two months. But also unlike the tree, mushrooms are not even plants, but fungi. Plants (and trees) develop through photosynthesis, with sunlight providing energy and the plants converting carbon dioxide into carbohydrates such as cellulose. Mushrooms have no roots, leaves, flowers or seeds. They survive and grow on decaying organic matter such as dead trees and manure.
Their unique nature enables mushrooms too add a delicious earthy element to cooking that enhances many foods. Mushrooms are also a good source of dietary fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. They contain almost no fat or cholesterol. The most popular kind are the agaricus bisphorus varieties such as button, cremini and portobello.

These mushrooms differ mostly in maturity, with the portobello being the oldest. Other varieties that are commonly farmed are shiitake and oyster mushrooms. Dried varieties such as porcini are a very good source of intense flavor when hydrated in hot liquid.

Mushroom Sauce
Purchase 2 portobellos, 8 ounces cremini, 8 ounces button, 4 ounces shiitake and 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms. Remove the stems from the portobellos and scrape the gills from the underside with a teaspoon. Dice into half-inch pieces and place in a bowl. Wipe any dirt from the creminis and quarter them along with the button mushrooms. Add to the bowl. Trim the stems off the shiitakes and cut them in half before adding to the bowl.

Bring 1 cup chicken broth to a boil and pour it over the dried porcini mushrooms. Let sit for 20 minutes.
Heat a large, heavy sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons butter. When butter is frothy, add the mushrooms from the bowl and cook, undisturbed, for about 5 minutes. Stir them around and add 1 cup chopped shallots and 2 tablespoons minced garlic. Season with 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage and 1 teaspoon ground pepper.

Strain the porcinis, saving the liquid. Chop the porcinis coarsely and add to the pan. Let all of the liquid from the mushrooms evaporate and add another tablespoon of butter. Stir in 1/4 cup flour to make a roux. Add the reserved mushroom liquid along with 1 cup white wine and bring to a boil. When it thickens, add 1/4 cup chopped parsley and check for seasoning.

With pasta: Boil 2 quarts water and add a 12-ounce package of whole-wheat bow-tie pasta. When cooked al dente, reserve a little of the boiling liquid and drain. Toss the mushroom sauce and pasta together, adding a little cooking liquid to thin it out. Grate fresh pecorino romano cheese over it and serve.  Serves 4.

With whole wheat spaetzle: Whisk together 2 eggs, 1 cup milk and 1/2 teaspoon salt. In a separate bowl, combine 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour with 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg and 2 tablespoons chopped parsley. Using a wooden spoon, add the dry ingredients to the milk mixture. Stir to form a thick batter. Cover and let it rest for 30 minutes.
At service time, bring 2 quarts water to a boil and add 1 teaspoon salt. Place the batter near the boiling water. Using a box grater, scoop out some of the batter with a rubber spatula and rub it through the large holes, holding the grater over the boiling water. Repeat until half of the batter is used. Let the spaetzle cook until it rises to the surface plus 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon or skimmer and drain in a colander. Repeat the process with the rest of the batter.

Heat a large sauté pan and spray it with no-stick. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and add the drained spaetzle. Cook until lightly browned and toss with the above mushroom sauce. Serves 4.

Stuffed Portobello with Barley Risotto
Remove the stems from 4 large portobello caps and scrape out the gills with a spoon. Mix together 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 2 tablespoons canola oil. Brush this mixture on the inside and outside of the portobellos and place them on a foil-lined sheet pan with the inside facing up. Roast for 5 minutes at 400 degrees and turn them over, letting them cook another 5 minutes. Remove, drain any liquid out of them and set aside.

Bring 2 cups chicken stock to a boil and add a 1-ounce package of dried porcini mushrooms. Remove from the heat and let it rest for 20 minutes.

Heat a large, shallow saucepan and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Stir in 1/2 cup chopped shallots and let them cook for 3 minutes before adding 1/2 cup barley. Stir the barley until it is coated with oil and add 1 cup red wine. Leave the heat on medium high and let the wine reduce. Strain the porcini mushrooms over a bowl, squeezing out all of the liquid. Begin adding this liquid to the barley in 1/2 cup ladles, letting it boil away after each addition. Keep stirring the mixture with a wooden spoon and adding the stock until it is gone. Check the barley for tenderness. It should be cooked but still have a firm texture.

Chop 1 package of shiitake mushrooms and 1 package of cremini mushrooms. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a sauté pan and add the mushrooms along with the soaked porcinis. Season with 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary and 1 teaspoon ground pepper. When the mushrooms are cooked, add them to the barley risotto.

Place the cooked portobellos on a sheet pan and fill the cavities with the risotto. Heat in a 400-degree oven at service time and serve any leftover risotto on the side.
Serves 4.

Duxelles-Stuffed Mussels
To make the duxelles, coarsely chop 1 pound white button mushrooms. Peel and finely chop 1 cup shallots. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a large, heavy sauté pan and add the mushrooms and shallots. Let them cook at medium heat until all liquid has evaporated, about 15 minutes. Add 1/2 cup white wine and continue to cook until it is entirely evaporated. Stir in 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley and remove from the heat.

In a soup pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter and add 1/2 cup minced shallots and 1 tablespoon minced garlic. Rinse 2 pounds of mussels and add them to the pot along with 2 bay leaves and 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes. Pour 1 cup white wine over the mussels, cover and bring to a boil. Simmer until all mussels open and remove from the heat.
Remove the mussels from the broth and strain the broth into a saucepan. Bring the broth to a boil and let it reduce a little. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a small pan and add 1/4 cup flour to make a roux. Whisk the roux into the mussel liquid and let it simmer to thicken.

Remove the mussels from their shells and set aside. Break the shells apart and rinse. Stuff the mussel shells with the duxelles, placing a mussel on top of each shell. Put the stuffed shells on a sheet pan and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of panko bread crumbs. At service time, heat the stuffed mussels in a 400-degree oven for about 5 minutes and place them in the bottom of shallow soup bowls. Ladle some of the sauce over each bowl and sprinkle with chopped parsley.
Serves 4-6.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: [email protected]