By Deirdre Bourdet
Winter vegetables are notoriously time consuming and obnoxious to
prepare. Few people are willing to double their usual meal preparation
time in order to accommodate the stubborn nature of cold weather
veggies. While I love greens and root vegetables at least as much as
the next person, I’m also tremendously lazy and don’t like spending
every night of my life on the prep work and cooking necessary to
transform them into something tasty and tender enough to eat.
Enter the mushroom. Light, cheap, and full of mysterious funky flavors and just as mysteriously good for you compounds, they bring a distinctive texture and earthy depth to a surprising range of dishes. Mushrooms are also one of the few veggies with a natural affinity for wine, particularly red wines, and particularly pinot noir. Their earthy, meaty character coaxes other ingredients into a more wine-loving state as well, making them a great addition to more challenging vegetables like spinach. And, as if that weren’t enough, they also can handle pretty much any seasoning you want to throw at them. Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme are just the beginning. Try garlic, pepper, fennel, curry, basil, oregano, cumin, or cayenne… they’re all fair game. As are all the flavored fats you can think of: chili oil, olive oil, sesame oil, truffle oil, cream, butter, and every cheese I’ve ever met. Mushrooms can handle them all.
Most popular cuisines use mushrooms in some capacity, and usually to delicious effect. Shiitakes, porcini, chanterelles, portobellos, enoki, lobster mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, morels, black trumpets, cremini, hens of the wood… each has its own distinctive charm, but all are fantastic sautéed in butter or olive oil and served with pasta or on a piece of toasted bread with a bit of melted cheese.
Of course, slicing and sautéing mushrooms is sometimes too much to ask. At such times, I reach for the whole cremini or shiitakes. Cleaned, tossed with salt, pepper, and olive oil, and thrown in the oven on a cookie sheet for about 15 minutes, they are the stuff that dreams are made of. Chopped coarsely, they also make great fillings for sandwiches, salads, burritos, quesadillas, and omelets. And naturally, they’re fantastic in pasta or on crostini too.
If you’re too lazy to even roast your mushrooms, just go to Martini House in St. Helena for their winter mushroom tasting menu. Chef Todd Humphries prepares four courses (including dessert?!) of foraged local mushrooms that showcase the versatility of this delectable fungus and require no effort on your part. Other than the delightful work of eating them, of course.
Martini House, www.martinihouse.com
1245 Spring Street (at Oak), St Helena, 707.963.2233