From humble, mild white buttons to wild, woodsy chanterelles, hearty portobellos to delicate morels, mushrooms come in myriad shapes, forms, flavors, and textures. Foraging for wild mushrooms usually peaks in the fall and spring, but most commercially grown varieties are abundant all year round.
Mushrooms are naturally rich in umami, making them delicious on their own, and an essential flavor-boosting ingredient in many recipes. They pair beautifully with cheese and eggs (quiche and omelettes come to mind); lend depth of flavor and meaty texture to broths, soups, and stews; and make great quick-cooking pasta dinners or side dishes, perfect for mid-week suppers.
Most mushrooms are delicious when simply sautéed with a little butter and a splash of wine. But to go above and beyond, here are a few of my ideas: Roasted portobello caps stuffed with sausage and melty cheese; a sophisticated soup that layers on the fungi flavor with mushroom stock, sautéed shiitakes, and a drizzle of truffle oil; and a delicious, multi-functional mushroom and sherry sauce made with a cooked-down mound of button mushrooms and a good dose of cream.
These recipes are made with the most common varieties, available in grocery stores year-round:
White button mushrooms are the most widely available of the bunch. They’re mildly flavored and soft and tender, and shrink to practically nothing when cooked, so plan accordingly.
Portobellos are large, meaty, flavorful mushrooms, sometimes used as an alternative to meat, or as a layer for vegetarian lasagna.
Shiitakes have a unique earthy flavor and firm and chewy texture, and maintain their shape when cooked. These mushrooms are ideal for soups; save their tough stems to make a flavorful broth.
In the market, look for fresh mushrooms that are firm and without blemishes. Avoid discolored and shriveled ones. To clean them, simply brush them with a cloth under running water to remove any dirt and use them right away; fresh mushrooms are highly perishable.
Dried mushrooms have to be reconstituted first, but have a stronger, concentrated flavor. They are a perfect ingredient for soups. You can also pulverize the dried mushrooms and use the powder to sprinkle on risottos and stews, for an extra umami boost.
Victoria de la Maza is an award-winning cookbook author, columnist, and international TV host. Passionate about great food, she combines American traditions with her European heritage to create classic-with-a-twist recipes and ideas for stylish entertaining at home.