Fungus is gross. It can't help it. But no fungus is more fun than mushrooms, those powerfully flavored, spore-producing bites of goodness. With a huge selection of edible varieties, each with its own texture and nuance, mushrooms in general provide a delightful undertone of earthiness to every dish they enrich.
They're great in salads, perfect on pizzas and even better in omelets. But for their most perfect application, you merely have to pair them with cream. There may be no better combination of flavors on this earth than mushrooms and cream. Think of cream of mushroom soup. Okay, now think of really good cream of mushroom soup, not the stuff that comes in a can. Think of cream of mushroom soup made by a great restaurant.
Pretty amazing, right? You can make it yourself at home without too terribly much trouble.
Oyster Mushroom Soup With Walnuts in Red Wine is made up of two distinct parts, the oyster mushroom soup part and the walnuts in red wine part. If you want, you can just make the oyster mushroom soup by itself. But if you have the time and inclination, I'd recommend making the walnuts in red wine, too.
The walnuts add a nutty crunch that enhances the mushrooms' woodsy flavor, but it is the red wine that really makes the difference. Reduced from two cups to just one tablespoon, the intense flavor of the wine is smoothed out and mellowed by the cream. It's wonderful.
With the heady marvel of the soup still coursing through my body, I next made the more prosaic, but no less delicious, Woodland Mushroom Quesadillas.
Here, you mix three kinds of mushrooms — button, large portobello caps and sliced shiitakes — and saute them together with shallots and garlic.
Before you place the mixture between two flour tortillas and cover it with cheese, you have the option of mixing in some marinara or adobo sauce. I used marinara, and I'd recommend doing the same even more than I recommend making the walnuts in red wine for the soup.
Without the sauce, the mushrooms are nice. But the sauce makes them queen of quesadillas.
Next up was a dish that sounds complicated, but isn't. Orecchiette Pasta With Shiitake Mushrooms and Sugar Snap Peas makes its own sauce out of the liquid that is exuded from the mushrooms as they cook, and then, when it is served, the sauce collects in tiny puddles in the orecchiette (the word means "little ears").
Minced red onion provides a moderate amount of bite, which is countered by the sweet saltiness of grated Parmesan cheese, and notes of freshness from sugar snap peas help to brighten the earthy mushrooms.
It's a fine dish to serve at a party, and if you make it for dinner be sure to make enough for leftovers the next day. It's a pasta salad, so it is especially good when you serve it the second day at room temperature.
For my final dish, I went to the king of the mushrooms, the morel. Morels are prized because of their unbeatable combination of flavor (full and hearty) and texture (honeycombed and sort of spongy).
They are so prized, they are ridiculously expensive when you buy them at the store, even when you, as I did, buy them dried and then reconstitute them.
The good news about the dish, Asparagus With Morels and Tarragon, is that you don't have to use morels if your pocketbook doesn't allow it. Any blend of exotic mushrooms will do.
This is a dish that is made up entirely of things that taste good together. Asparagus and mushrooms are always a good pair, and so are asparagus and tarragon. Mushrooms and tarragon, too. And shallots go with all of them, especially when sauteed in butter.
It's certainly pricey, if you use morels, but it is a side dish fit for a king — of mushrooms.