Mushrooms: “Grey is a color, too!”

With frequent reports reminding us to eat our colors, mushrooms are often under appreciated for the nutritional powerhouses they are. They can bolster the immune system (yes, keeping H1N1 at bay), lower stress and reduce the risk of many chronic illnesses. Because of their hearty texture, they can also be a great way to replace or “stretch” the meat called for in more many recipes. One of my favorite tricks is to mix ground portabellas (just throw them in a food processor) into ground beef and then use to make hamburgers, lasagna, etc. as you usually would. This is particularly good if you are using grass-fed beef that has a normal (aka non-reduced) fat content. The mushrooms help lighten up the meal without losing any valuable Omega 3s.

Last night I made a mushroom and sage sauté and served it over polenta. I used criminis, which also go by the name baby portabellas or, alliteratively, baby bellas. They are the same shape as white button (still America’s favorite), but darker and more flavorful. While each mushroom type seems to have its own expertise in the nutrition game, but criminis are among the best. If you are looking for adventure, however, check out Madura Farms stand (Union Square, Grand Army Plaza, Carroll Park… click here to see if they come to the market near you): they have oyster, shitake, chanterelles, hen of the woods, you name it – all of which are yummy simply sautéed with butter and salt.

Mushroom and Sage Ragu

Serves 2

2-3 Tbs olive oil

8-12 inches of sausage (optional), such as the turkey sausage from DiPaola, cut on the bias into ¼ inch slices

1 large yellow onion, halved and sliced thin

Broth (chicken or vegetable) or water

4 cloves garlic (less if you are using non-local garlic), minced or pressed

2 yellow tomatoes, halved and sliced thin

1 pepper (half of a bell, if you want a mild dish, jalapeño or chili pepper if you want to jazz it up; mince spicier pepper, slice into 2 inch sticks for milder peppers)

2 cups crimini mushrooms, quartered

1/3 cup red wine

3 Tbs chopped parsley

2 Tbs chopped fresh sage

kosher salt and black pepper

grated parmesan

Heat skillet and allow oil to coat the pan. Add the sausage, if using. Allow to brown by leaving untouched for about 2 minutes. Flip the sausage slices and repeat. When browned on both sides, remove sausage to plate with slotted spoon. Set aside.

Add onion to same pan over medium heat. While the onion is cooking add a bit of broth to the pan, to deglaze the yummy brown bits left by the sausage. When onion is soft (~4 minutes), add garlic. After two minutes, add tomato and cover. When tomato has broken down (3-5 minutes), add pepper, mushrooms and wine. Cook covered until pepper has softened (3-5 minutes). Stir in parsley, sage, salt and pepper. Simmer uncovered until sauce reduces to desired dryness. Serve over polenta (recipe below) and dust with parmesan.


Serve 2 to 3

2 ½ cups chicken broth (recommended) or water

kosher or sea salt

2/3 cups very fine cornmeal (available on Fridays at the Union Square Farmer Market)

4 Tbs half and half or 2 Tbs cream (available from Milk Thistle)

Bring broth and salt to a rolling boil. Stirring constantly to stave off lumps, slowly add cornmeal. When the mixture starts to thicken, stir in half and half. Stirring occasionally, simmer until mixture is desired thickness, 3-20 minutes. (Traditionally, polenta is served very runny but I like mine approaching the consistency of mashed potatoes.)

photo by Photowitch, via Dreamstime

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