Some say polenta is the precursor to bread, one of the earliest and simplest forms of food. Ancient grains such as millet and spelt were originally used to make polenta, followed by farro, barley and buckwheat that were used predominantly until the mid 16thcentury when explorers returned with maize from the New World. Modern polenta, which claims its roots in Northern Italy, is made primarily using coarse corn meal and resembles American grits.
The preparation has remained virtually unchanged since early times, essentially mixing coarsely ground grain with water to create a paste that can be eaten warm in liquid form or cold as a solid cake. A staple of peasantry for centuries, polenta was mixed in round bottomed copper pots known as paiolo and stirred with a wooden spoon. Today, polenta has reached gourmet status and can be found on menus in many fine dining establishments around the world.
The key to a good polenta is to let it sit on the stove on very low heat for several hours, stirring frequently to achieve a sweet and luxurious creaminess. Butter is added at the end along with some grated grana Padano or well-aged parmesan. Polenta is incredibly versatile and can be baked, fried, grilled or used warm as a great accompaniment to vegetables, meats and stews.
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1½ tsp salt
⅔ cup coarse ground corn meal
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup shallots, thinly sliced (@ 2 medium)
2 cups mixed wild mushrooms, bite size pieces or 3 oz dried reconstituted
½ tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp herbes de Provence
½ cup chicken, mushroom or veg. stock
1 Tbsp fresh chives, finely chopped
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
½ cup grated good quality grana-padano or parmesan
Directions: (Note allow 3½ hours to achieve the perfect polenta)
In a heavy saucepan, heat cream and milk on medium heat until small bubbles begin to appear on the surface. Add salt and whisk hard until you reach a heavy froth.
Add polenta, increase heat to medium high and whisk constantly for 3 minutes until mixture begins to boil.
Reduce heat to very low (if you have a heat diffuser use it here), cover the pot and cook for 3½ hours stirring with a wooden spoon every five to ten minutes. Mixture should be smooth, thick and creamy at the end.
When polenta is almost done, start the mushroom ragout.
In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat.
Add shallots and cook until translucent and begin to brown at the edges (@5mins)
Increase heat to medium high, add mushrooms, red pepper flakes and herbes de Provence and cook until mushrooms have released all of their liquids.
Add stock, bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 7-10 mins. There should still be liquids in the pan. Sprinkle with chives.
Just before serving, add butter and cheese to the polenta stirring until well incorporated. Note: polenta will thicken as it cools. If too thick, thin it with a little milk.
Spoon polenta into bowls and top with the mushroom ragout.
Following a discouraging morel season earlier this spring, many of us in the Northeast left our disappointment behind looking optimistically towards the bountiful chanterelle season ahead. Although Vermont had one of the rainiest Junes on record forcing many to hold outdoor events indoors, mycophiles relished at the fact that the inclement weather would result in a moist forest floor, perfect for fungi growth. We were not disappointed with the outcome!
We found our first, small chanterelles early in July and with the exception of one scorching week last month we have found these beauties in all of our foraging spots. Some were small and tight, others were gorgeous specimen bursting with flavor and exuding their distinct apricot aroma.
Chanterelles are revered by foodies worldwide for their delicate chewy texture, bright yellow/orange hues and mild flavor. Most people refer to the Golden chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius) when describing this mushroom though there are at least eighteen varieties in a wide range of colors. These include the Red Chanterelle (Cantharellus cinnabarinus), the White Chanterelle (Cantharellus subalbidus), the Yellow-footed Chanterelle (Cantharellus xanthopus) and the Blue Chanterelle (Polyozellus multiplex), the latter found primarily in the Rocky Mountains. Other choice mushrooms in the chanterelle family include the evasive Pig’s Ear Gomphus (Gomphus clavatus) and the Black Trumpet (Craterellus fallax), a favorite of ours.
Chanterelles prefer the rich, acidic soil of a mature forest where oak, pine, spruce, birch, poplar and beech are predominant. They tend to be found near mossy streams, on the edge of the woods, near deep glacial deposits and along well-worn forest paths or old dirt roads. They can be found growing on their own or in groups, their bright yellow color popping out from the ground making them fairly easy to spot. They vary in size from a small, convex shape that, upon maturing, evolves into a large curving, funnel-like form.
There are two poisonous mushrooms that are often confused with the prized chanterelle. These are the False Chanterelle (Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca) found primarily under conifers that can cause hallucinations and the Jack O’ Lantern (Omphalotus illudens) that grow in clusters either on dead stumps, buried roots or at the base of hardwood trees, usually oak. Jack O’ Lantern can cause severe gastrointestinal ailments.
Aside from the aforementioned toxic look-alikes, chanterelles are a real culinary delicacy that are outstanding sautéed on their own or paired with eggs, nuts, fish and various meats. They are fantastic pan-fried then added to a cream sauce or incorporated into an omelet, tart or risotto. Because chanterelles release a lot of moisture when heated, it is important to let the fluids evaporate before adding any other ingredients. They should not be left to “stew” in their liquids since this will make them tough and leathery. Fresh chanterelles will keep up to a week on a wire rack in the refrigerator and can be air frozen whole then transferred to a heavy duty resealable bag and kept in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Recipe: Breakfast Chanterelles
Lion’s Mane – Hericium erinaceus is a fascinating mushroom that goes by a lot of common names including monkey’s head, sheep’s head and bearded tooth. In Japan it is called yamabushitake, loosely translated as “those who sleep in the mountains”, named after the Yamabushi monks who live high in the Omine mountain range. Lion’s mane can be found on dead/dying oak, beech, maple and other deciduous trees and are usually found in the wild during the latter part of the summer and early fall. It is an unusual looking mushroom shaped like a pompom with long, pure white cascading tendrils that carry its spores and turns brown as it ages.
Lion’s mane has been a staple in Chinese medicine for centuries and was thought to “give nerves of steel and the memory of a lion” to those who ingested it. For years Buddhist monks have consumed this mushroom in the form of a tea to heighten their focus during meditation and enhance their brain power. Recent studies have demonstrated that lion’s mane has the capacity to improve cognitive ability and strengthen memory and concentration explaining the increased awareness experienced by these monks. Lion’s mane is considered a super food due to its many health benefits including its neuroregenerative properties.
When neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s occur, the brain is incapable of producing its own internal source of nerve growth factors (NGF), a protein that is essential for the maintenance and growth of nerve cells. Whereas NGFs are also produced elsewhere in the body, the semi-permeable sheath that surrounds the brain (blood-brain barrier) prevents them from entering this area. Research has shown that two compounds unique to lion’s mane, hericenones and erinacines are small enough to pass through the blood-brain barrier and stimulate the brain to produce its own NGF, thereby boosting production of new nerve cells. Erinacines compound have been called “the most powerful NGF inducers of all natural compounds” and has proven effective in improving muscle-motor response pathways in Parkinson’s patients and repair neurological trauma in stroke victims.
In addition to improving cognitive ability and memory, lion’s mane has been used by herbalists in conjunction with medicinal herbs to treat Lyme’s disease, specifically the Borrelia bacteria that causes neurocognitive deficit in the brain. It appears that because compounds in lion’s mane can pass through the blood brain barrier, it releases the bacteria into the blood stream where it can be treated more effectively. Separately, studies have shown that Lion’s mane can elevate one’s mood and alleviate anxiety, helpful when treating individuals suffering from depression. It has also been used for centuries in Chinese medicine to maintain good colon health and improve a host of digestive disorders including stomach ailments, gastritis, duodenal ulcers, and esophageal cancer.
Gastronomically, Lion’s mane has a subtle seafood-like flavor, reminiscent of lobster and crab, which is intensified when slowly cooked in butter. It is great sautéed on its own in olive oil with garlic and shallots or poached in a butter and white wine reduction sauce. It complements fish dishes wonderfully and is a great substitute for meat in pasta. To avoid getting a bitter taste, it is important to cook this mushroom slowly allowing the edges to turn a crispy brown then letting the liquids evaporate before adding in any flavorful moisture back.
Lion’s Mane/King Crab Spread: (courtesy Fungi.com and edited)
3 King Crab legs
7 medium cloves garlic
Juice of ½ lime
¼ medium red onion
1 tsp Italian Seasoning
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp Celestial Seasonings Creole Spice
1 tsp ground chipotle pepper
2 heaping Tbsp sour cream
2 heaping Tbsp cream cheese
¼ medium tomato
½ – ¾ lb Lion’s Mane mushrooms
Steam crab legs then extract the crab meat from the shells and set aside. Slice the Lion’s mane into discs and sauté in butter in an iron skillet over medium-high heat. Place the remaining ingredients in a food processor and quick-chop for approximately 30 seconds. Add in mushrooms and crab and process for another minute.
Note from fungi.com: If you want to really send this recipe over the top, consider adding some fresh parmesan or goat cheese to it as well.
Source: superfoods-for-superhealth.com, foursigmafoods.com, Mycelium Running Paul Stamets, Beneficialbotanicals.com, fungi.com
Terrafunga does not offer medical advice. Readers should seek medical advice from a licensed physician or other qualified health professional and not rely on information they may gather from secondary sources such as the internet.
After a dry spring in the Northeast that resulted in a disappointing morel harvest, mushroom foraging season is finally upon us. The steady rains in June combined with early sightings of chicken of the woods, king boletes and chanterelles have gotten mushroom hunters excited to get into the woods to pick their first harvest. Whether foraging for wild mushrooms is a new activity or an annual event, mushroom hunters should take the time to examine their gear, consult their identification books and review the forager’s code of conduct before heading into the woods to ensure that the experience is safe and enjoyable for all.
GEAR AND ATTIRE:
Hunting for mushrooms usually entails long hours in the woods hiking over uneven terrain in fluctuating temperatures and thus wearing the proper attire is essential. Dressing in layers is important since one can work up a sweat hiking over steep topography then cool down when scouring the forest floor for fungi. Sturdy hiking boots are a must and carrying waterproof gear is prudent in case of inclement weather. It is also wise to carry plenty of water and have snacks on hand since foraging can be quite strenuous.
In addition to wearing the proper clothing and carrying food and water, mushroom hunters should have a foraging knife and harvesting basket. There are a variety of mushroom knives to consider that typically have a brush on one end and a specialty blade on the other. The brush helps to clean the mushroom on site and the blade prevents the mycelium from being damaged. Terrafunga carries a full line of mushroom picking knives in all price ranges.
Mushrooms should be placed carefully in a well aerated basket, pack or bag. This prevents the mushrooms from getting damaged and allows for spores to drop to the ground encouraging propagation. Experienced hunters have a favorite harvesting vessel that range from hand-made Adirondack packs to picnic and African baskets, to creels and light mesh bags. European foragers have some very sophisticated backpacks complete with wire frames, zip covers, screened bottoms and compartments to separate mushrooms by varieties. Whatever ones preference, the container should be lightweight when empty and comfortable to carry over a long period of time.
Many foragers also arm themselves with a walking stick which doubles as a digging tool that helps to gently uncover hidden fungi. There is a variety of specialty walking sticks available on the market from adjustable aluminum hiking poles to intricate hand-carved wooden staffs. The walking stick should be sturdy yet lightweight, feel comfortable when held and adjusted to an appropriate length.
Other recommended gear includes a compass (since it is easy to get disoriented in the woods) and a journal to jot down where mushrooms were found, time of year, weather conditions and any other observations made during harvest. A whistle, bug repellent and a guidebook should also be brought along.
Wild mushroom varieties have several counterparts that are poisonous (and some deadly), so proper identification is crucial. When first starting out, it is best to be accompanied by an experienced forager and have your harvest properly identified by a mycologist. One should never consume a mushroom that has not been positively identified.
There is a plethora of mushroom identification books on the market. It is advisable to carry a small guide book into the woods and keep a few others at home for information and further identification. There are several publications that specialize in fungi from particular regions, others that detail only specific varieties and some that focus solely on poisonous strains. The following are staples in the Terrafunga “mycolibrary” and are a great resource:
- National Audubon Society – Field Guide to Mushrooms (North America) – Gary Lincoff
- Mushrooms of Northeastern North America – Bessette, Bessette, Fischer
- Mushrooms Demystified – David Arora
- Mushrooms and other Fungi of North America – Roger Phillips
- Mushroom Picker’s Foolproof Field Guide – Peter Jordan
- Mushrooms: An Introduction to Familiar North American Species – James Kavanagh
- A Field Guide to Mushrooms – Kent H. McNight
- North American Mushrooms: A Guide to edible and inedible fungi – Orson K. Miller
- Mycelium running: How Mushrooms can help save the world – Paul Stamets
MUSHROOM FORAGER’S CODE OF CONDUCT:
Leave no trace behind
Pick only what you need
Identify properly and with certainty
Be prepared; track your route, pack properly, bring a companion
Do not pick where prohibited
Sample new varieties in small amounts
Always cook your mushrooms
Share your bounty and your knowledge
There are risks to consuming wild mushrooms and it is recommended that they not be eaten raw. If wild mushrooms are purchased, be sure that they come from a reliable source. Should you suspect that you may have eaten a poisonous mushroom, take the following action:
- Call your local hospital or physician immediately.
- If possible, bring a sample of the mushroom that you have consumed to your doctor or hospital.
- Contact a local mycologist that can definitely identify the mushroom that you have ingested.
- Contact your local poison control center 800/222-1222