Midweek Mix-in: Mushrooms 101

The Crimini mushroom. Also known as Baby Bellas.

Mushrooms are one of those things you either love or hate.  Although they consistently make the Top 10 list of the most hated foods in the US, they have always been one of my favorites.  As a kid I ate them out of a can.  They look even less attractive and their texture isn’t ideal this way but it’s the way my mom bought them.  They went in spaghetti sauce, rice dishes, tuna noodle casserole, and of course, on our pizza.  It wasn’t until I started cooking on my own, around 10 years old, that I discovered the raw mushroom.  The White Button mushroom was often sautéed with onions and served on top of my burgers, steaks and chicken breasts.  It was a way for me to easily and quickly “dress up” a dish.  Hazel Dell White Button mushrooms were featured in my Serving Up Fort Collins post for Ruth’s Broccoli and Mushroom Salad this past Sunday.

I’ve ventured beyond the White Button mushroom since then and have come to appreciate the deeper flavor of the Crimini and Portabella.  If I had it my way, I’d throw mushrooms in EVERYTHING.  I like them THAT much.  Due to the fact that others’ tastes haven’t yet grown quite as sophisticated as my own, I’ve gotten good at hiding them in things.  They add great texture to meatballs, add flavor to omelettes, and are a natural counterpart to spinach in quesadillas and on gourmet pizzas.  For those of you that love mushrooms, I challenge you to move outside your comfort zone and explore a new variety.  The Crimini is my favorite!  Mushroom hater?  Apparently you aren’t alone.  There are many of you out there.  For you, I have but one question…what did the mushroom ever do to you?

A few common varieties you’ll find locally:

Variety:  WHITE BUTTON – the most popular mushroom and represent 90% of the mushrooms consumed in the US
Flavor:  mild taste and flavor that deepens when cooked
Prep:  serve raw, sautéed, or cooked in any way
Ideas:  raw in salads, chopped and added to meatballs or burgers, inside spinach quesadillas, soups

Variety:  CRIMINI or “baby bellas” – similar in appearance to the White Button but have a darker brown color and firmer texture
Flavor:  deeper, earthier flavor than the White Button
Prep:  sauté, broil or roast, stuffed
Ideas:  chopped and added to omelettes or frittatas, add to beef, vegetable or pasta dishes, lasagna

Variety:  PORTABELLA – larger relative to the Crimini, brown caps measuring up to 6 inches in diameter
Flavor:  deep meat-like texture and flavor
Prep:  broil, grill or roast
Ideas:  a great vegetarian alternative to meat in a sandwich or burger, fajitas, stroganoff, in place of noodles in lasagna

Variety:  SHIITAKE – tan to dark brown with broad, umbrella-shaped caps. Stems should be removed
Flavor:  meaty texture. Rich and woodsy when cooked
Prep:  taste best when cooked
Ideas:  stir-fry, pastas, soups (like Miso), pairs well with greens and Bok Choy

Variety:  ENOKI – tiny, button-shaped caps and long, spindly stems
Flavor:  mild, crunchy
Prep:  before using, trim roots at cluster base. Separate stems before serving
Ideas:  raw in salads and on sandwiches, soups, Asian salads, risotto

Variety:  OYSTER – gray, pale yellow, or blue with a velvety texture
Flavor:  very delicate
Prep:  sauté with butter and onions to bring out their flavor
Ideas: in pastas, over steak, sprinkled with parmesan cheese, pairs well with fish

The above info gathered from mushroominfo.com .  For additional info on varieties and everything else you could ever want to know about mushrooms (ie: folklore, history, cultivation, etc) visit mushroominfo.com

Local Sources for Mushrooms

Hazel Dell Mushrooms
Fort Collins Food Co-Op
Whole Foods
Old Town Spice Shop (dried mushrooms)

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