I am a mushroom lover. Have been since I was a kid. There's something about their earthy flavor that just grabs me. Mushrooms have been around since antiquity. Depending on your source, there are anywhere from 10,000 to 38,000 types of mushrooms. Only about 3,000 are edible.
The ancient Chinese, Greeks and Romans loved mushrooms. Sometimes with fatal consequences. As was the case with the Roman Emperor Claudius. In Ancient Rome, when an emperor died they would automatically declare him a god and put him in their pantheon of deities. Well, old Claudius, at a banquet was fed some poisonous mushrooms. The minute he tasted them he knew something was up. So he rose and addressed the assembled audience, declaring, "I think I am becoming a god"---and keeled over.
As you can tell, some varieties can be deadly: such as the famous "toadstools of the amanita genus, commonly known as amanita phalloides or "death cap." Other varieties can be used for medicinal purposes, inclusive of the reishi, which is highly prized in Chinese medicine. And some can give you a trip, literally, such as the psilocybin mushrooms, which are hallucinogenic. Of course, these are illegal.
But we know mushrooms mainly for their dining pleasure. Today, apart from the white button mushrooms of my youth, there are numerous gourmet types such as enoki, crimini, porcini (often used in soups and sauces), oyster mushrooms (known to reduce cholesterol), chantarelle, shitaki, portobello, and , of course, the ultimate fungi, truffles---which can cost you anywhere from $130 to $390 per pound for black truffles, and $1350 to $2700 per pound for the white variety.
The best way to cook mushrooms, I've discovered, is the old Roman method: sliced and sauteed in olive oil with slivers of garlic. But for you adventurous types, below is a perfect dish for summer: portobello mushroom sandwiches.
And, no, you don't need truffles for this. But be aware that you'll need large portobello mushroom caps. Done right, they taste like a steak.
BASIC PORTOBELLO MUSHROOM SANDWICH
2 large portobello mushrooms, washed, cleaned and stemmed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 slices (about 1 ounce each) mozzarella or Swiss cheese
2 bagels or sesame seed buns, toasted
Oregano to taste
1. In a medium skillet heat the olive oil.
2. Add portobellos, stem face down, and cook for approximately two minutes. Note that the cooking time will vary depending on size or thickness of mushrooms.
3. Turn mushrooms over, add slices of cheese on top, and cook 2 minutes more or until cheese melts.
4. Sprinkle with oregano and serve on toasted bagel or bun.
Yield: 2 servings.
Labels: Ancient Rome, chatarelle, Claudius, Cook, crimini, enoki, Mushroom, Olive oil, porcini, portobello, recipes, shitaki, truffles