Mushrooms have long captured our imagination in fairy tales. Maybe it’s their feathery gills, their mysterious manner of rising out of the ground overnight, or that they resemble dwellings for little forest folk.
We have given even the most lethal varieties whimsical names like Destroying Angels and Death Cap and, unless you’re a fungus foraging expert, you can’t generally judge their edibility by their colour, shape or size. However, you can rest assured that the plump little caps you buy at your local grocer or market are as safe as, well, houses.
Edible mushrooms are a versatile bunch. Enjoy their soft, nutty flesh when just-plucked from the forest floor; spear bigger ones onto sosatie sticks for a braai accompaniment; slice them up into stir-fries; steam them in delicate dumplings; or roast them with a more robust treatment of garlic, herbs and butter.
Some mushrooms have been shown to have promising cardiovascular, anticancer, antiviral, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, and mushroom extracts are used in certain Asian countries along with radiation treatments and chemotherapy. But we endorse them simply for their culinary credentials.
Try these quick ideas:
· Mushrooms shine when combined with woody herbs such as thyme and rosemary. Try them in risotto, pasta or on toast.
· Autumn is the perfect time of the year to bake hearty mushroom and potato, or chicken, leek and mushroom pies.
· With caramelised butternut, crumbly feta and fresh mushrooms, this savoury cheesecake is pure comfort food.
· A rich and creamy mushroom sauce is perfect with juicy steak.
· Liven up polenta by crumbling in blue cheese and adding porcini mushrooms lightly fried in butter and garlic.
· Make vegetarian burgers by topping slices of ciabatta with baked mushroom steaks (smeared with garlic and topped with mozzarella and oregano) and a sprinkling of Parmesan.
· Mushrooms work beautifully with cream. Try Taryne Jakobi’s creamy medley of wild mushroom soup for a rich and fragrant meat-free dinner.