Mushrooms masquerade for the meat

I can attest to the deliciousness of the andouille sausage sandwich pictured on the front page of this week’s A la Carte.

But as someone who doesn’t want to eat meat — even poultry or fish — all the time, I appreciate the efforts of establishments like Figgy’s Food Truck to provide tasty vegetarian options. According to local cooks, including Figgy’s proprietor Melissa Jones-Hanscom, more diners are asking for their meals without meat.

I’ve blogged about this concept before — known to some as “flexitarianism” — and am pleased to see that in the past few years, it’s caught on, apparently for reasons of health and economy, not ideology. No longer should a meatless meal be considered a compromise.

It comes as no surprise to vegetarians that mushrooms are a great way to add savoriness and substance to dishes lacking meat. Amid the divergence of my husband’s food preferences from mine, I’ve always been grateful that we both at least love mushrooms, so they’re a staple at our house and often the basis for a meal when I feel we’ve had meat a bit too often.

This week, I based a lasagna around mushrooms with winter squash in a bechamel sauce. Because I only had fresh button mushrooms on hand, I dipped into a frozen cache of dried morel mushrooms picked last spring by the newspaper’s outdoors editor. Reconstituting the morels, I was left with a handy, flavored liquid to thin my sauce in the absence of a good stock. My husband, Will, commented that it tasted like gravy, which could be no higher compliment coming from him.

I assembled the dish the night before using egg roll wrappers for the pasta sheets (they’re basically the same), a mixture of ricotta and lemon-flavored goat cheese, the sauteed mushroom-onion-garlic mixture and raw acorn squash, sliced very thinly so it would cook through. I topped the whole thing with fresh mozzarella and baked it the next day for 45 minutes at 350 F.

Usually, a quicker pasta dish is part of my weekly repertoire. The following, courtesy of the Detroit Free Press, is another way to maximize the flavor of dried mushrooms by infusing them into stock.

Remember to use a damp paper towel to wipe away any dirt on mushrooms. Soaking them in water is a good way to dilute their flavor and prolong their cooking, as mushrooms are like sponges. For very soiled mushrooms, rinse them quickly under cool water and immediately wipe them dry.

If possible, purchase loose mushrooms and store them in a paper bag. Storing them in plastic or another type of enclosed container traps condensation and causes them to spoil quicker. For that reason, I avoid purchasing mushrooms packaged in foam and plastic.

MCT photo

Mushroom and Marsala Fettuccine

2 cups vegetable stock

1 ounce dried mushrooms, such as porcini

Salt, to taste

3⁄4 to 1 pound fettuccine or pappardelle pasta

3 tablespoons butter

3⁄4 pound cremini or mini portobello mushrooms, thinly sliced

1 small bunch Tuscan (lacinato) kale or Swiss chard, stemmed and thinly sliced

4 shallots, peeled and chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

Black pepper, to taste

Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

3⁄4 cup Marsala wine

1 cup heavy whipping cream (or a mix of heavy cream and or half-and-half)

A few sprigs fresh sage, very thinly sliced

Grated Parmesan cheese for serving (about 1⁄2 cup)

In a small saucepan, place the stock and dried mushrooms. Bring to a low boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 15 minutes to reconstitute mushrooms. Strain mushrooms from stock and chop. Reserve stock.

Bring a large pot of water to boil, salt it, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving a little cooking water.

While pasta is cooking, in a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the fresh mushrooms and increase heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms darken, about 7 to 8 minutes. Add the kale, shallots and garlic; season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.

Cook for about 7 minutes longer, then stir in the wine. Add chopped, reconstituted mushrooms and all but 1⁄4 cup of mushroom-infused stock.

Stir in the cream and cook to reduce and thicken. Toss pasta with sauce, adding reserved pasta cooking water if sauce is too thick to coat pasta nicely. Garnish with the sage and serve with the cheese on the side.

Makes 4 generous servings.

— Recipe adapted by the Detroit Free Press from Rachel Ray magazine’s February 2011 issue.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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