Every once in a while, a cookbook comes along that you realize you’ve needed for years. “Shroom: Mind-bendingly Good Recipes for Cultivated and Wild Mushrooms,” by Seattle’s Becky Selengut (Andrews McMeel, $35, 240 pages), is that kind of book. The private chef, cooking teacher and author of “Good Fish” has a clear and disarming style.
Plenty of mushroom books on the market focus on how to hunt down and identify the scores of varieties, or they tantalize readers with recipes calling for the ones most difficult to find. Selengut, however, skips the foraging instructions and zeros in on 15 commonly available species. Then she works them for all they’re worth, drawing deep for flavor and casting wide for multicultural flavor influences, which makes for an irresistible blend of practicality and romance.
Portobellos, creminis and button mushrooms – all close cousins – act as gateway fungi in the first chapter. A cremini-and-beef bourguignon bubbled its leisurely way through the hours into a hearty but straightforward stew.
Beech or hon-shimeji mushrooms come in a jaunty little cluster, held together by what looks like a polystyrene base. They have a funky sweetness, which became almost cloying once they were wrapped in phyllo and coupled with a Georgian walnut sauce.
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Selengut turns to the now-common shiitake to good effect in Asian dishes. Its dense texture and baritone character make a good match for soy flavors. Powerful on its own, it goes nuclear when seasoned with a soy dressing and porcini powder.
Hedgehog mushrooms stood in for meat in a chili studded with cashews; despite bold seasoning with ancho chili, oregano and fire-roasted tomatoes, it just doesn’t compare in flavor to a beef chili..
Far more seductive was a bowl of Thai khao soi noodles, in which the same hedgehog mushrooms got slathered in panang curry and roasted. Served atop deep-fried noodles and bathed liberally in coconut milk, the hedgehogs went up to 11 on the volume dial and were worth every bit of the giant fry-up mess in the kitchen.
When I test a single-subject cookbook, it often happens that I’m heartily sick of the star ingredient after a week. But by the time I got to the end of “Shroom,” I was perfectly prepared to go back and start right in at the beginning again.
If that’s not the definition of a keeper, I don’t know what is.
Serves 6 to 8
Make ahead: The mushrooms and noodles can be cooked several hours in advance.
Adapted from “Shroom: Mind-Bendingly Good Recipes for Cultivated and Wild Mushrooms,” by Becky Selengut.
For the mushrooms:
2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted, plus more for brushing
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons seasoned rice vinegar
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon porcini powder (dried porcini mushrooms, finely ground)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound shiitake mushrooms, stemmed
For the salad:
Heaping 1 tablespoon kosher salt
24 ounces dried rice noodles (1/8- to 1/4-inch wide)
1 head red leaf or green leaf lettuce, cut into bite-size pieces
1 medium carrot, scrubbed well, then cut into julienne (matchstick strips)
1 medium cucumber, seeded, then cut into julienne
1 cup thinly shredded red cabbage
1/2 cup roasted, salted peanuts, coarsely chopped if desired
1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
For the optional garnish:
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots, separated into rings
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
For the mushrooms: Place a rack in the middle of the oven; preheat the broiler. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, then brush the foil lightly with coconut oil.
Whisk together the tomato paste, soy sauce, vinegar, toasted sesame oil, the 2 tablespoons of coconut oil, the porcini powder and a good pinch of pepper in a mixing bowl. Add the mushrooms, using your hands to toss and coat them evenly. Spread them on the prepared baking sheet; broil for 5 to 6 minutes or until well browned, then turn them over and broil on the second side for 3 to 4 minutes; watch closely as they cook, to avoid scorching. Let cool.
For the salad: Bring a medium pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Stir in the salt and then the noodles; turn off the heat and let sit for 8 to 12 minutes, stirring from time to time. Check for doneness at about 8 minutes. (The noodles should be slightly firm in the middle.) As soon as the noodles are done, drain in a colander and rinse under cool water. Let them sit at room temperature.
When you’re ready to serve the salad, reheat the mushrooms as needed, either in a 350-degree oven or in a skillet over medium heat.
Divide the lettuce among individual bowls. Top each serving with an equal portion of the noodles, carrot, cucumber, cabbage, peanuts, basil, mint, fried shallots, if using (see below), and the warm mushrooms. Serve right away, with liberal doses of nuoc cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce).
To make the optional garnish: Line a plate with paper towels. Heat the vegetable oil in a small saucepan to 350 degrees. Add the shallots and fry just until lightly browned. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the paper towel-lined plate; immediately sprinkle with the salt. Let sit at room temperature until ready to serve.
Per serving (based on 8): 440 calories, 8 g protein, 82 g carbohydrates, 10 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 320 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar
Pasta with morels, leeks and oven-roasted tomatoes
Serves 6 to 8
Use fresh morels when they’re in season. Note: Clean fresh morel mushrooms by plunging them into cold water, squeezing them gently and drying them on a towel.
Adapted from “Shroom” by Becky Selengut.
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 ounce dried morels (may substitute 8 ounces fresh morels; see NOTE)
1 pound small dried penne pasta
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pint cherry tomatoes, each cut in half
1 large leek, white and light-green parts, thinly sliced and rinsed well (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano (may substitute 1 teaspoon dried)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Scant 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
Pecorino Romano cheese, grated or shaved, for serving
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the kosher salt.
Place the dried morels in a fine-mesh strainer; submerge them in the pot just long enough to rehydrate them, then cut them crosswise into 1/4-inch slices.
Transfer to a bowl, along with a few tablespoons of the water.
Add the pasta to the still-boiling water and cook to al dente according to the package directions. Drain and return to the pot (off the heat), reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water.
Meanwhile, line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, then pour in the 1/4 cup of oil. Add the rehydrated morels (reserving any remaining soaking water), the tomatoes, leek, zucchini, oregano and crushed red pepper flakes.
Use your hands to toss the ingredients until well coated. Sprinkle with the sea salt, then spread the pieces in a single layer. Roast for about 15 minutes or until parts of the vegetables are caramelized.
Stir the minced garlic (to taste) into the vegetables on the baking sheet, along with the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Scrape the mixture into the pot of just-cooked pasta, then add the reserved mushroom soaking water. Place over medium-low heat; cook just until warmed through and the pasta has absorbed juices from the vegetables. If the mixture seems dry, add some or all of the reserved cooking water.
Serve with plenty of the pecorino Romano to sprinkle over each portion.
Per serving (based on 8): 340 calories, 9 g protein, 50 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 280 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar