We like mushrooms, but we have always wondered exactly what is in them. Based on the amount of liquid we have to cook out when we prepare them, they must be mostly water. But nutritionally - are they good for you? Do they have vitamins in them? Most of our general nutrition knowledge is about plants - we know that dark leafy greens have iron. Orange foods have beta carotene. But mushrooms? Little brown or white or tan fungi? What is in them?
Well, being geeks, we looked it up. Fortunately there is a handy nutrient database, run by the USDA, where you can find out what's in all sorts of foods. Here is what we learned: mushrooms are mostly water (90%). They also have good amounts of potassium, iron, vitamin A, and vitamin D. Maitake seem to be the best for you, with the largest amounts of potassium and vitamin D. Interesting! Now, onto eating them.
We wanted to make a hearty, intensely mushroomy sauce to serve with pappardelle. If you have a pasta maker, handmade pappardelle are delicious and pretty easy to make - you just make your sheets of pasta, then cut them into wide ribbons by hand. They are a great vehicle for a rich, hearty sauce, like this one with mushrooms cooked in a little cream and wine and seasoned with thyme. We intensified the mushroom flavor by making a broth with dried porcini. If you don't have a pasta maker, this sauce would be good with another substantial pasta, like rigatoni.
Mushroom Sauce (serves 2)
- About 1/4 oz (a handful) of dried porcini mushrooms
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 pound mixed fresh mushrooms (we used oyster and crimini)
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 small shallot, chopped
- 1 large clove garlic, chopped
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- Grated parmesan cheese
Start by making a porcini broth: first rinse the dried porcini mushrooms to remove any dirt or other debris. Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan, turn off the heat, and add the mushrooms, making sure they are all submerged. Put the top on the saucepan and let it sit for at least half an hour.
Coarsely chop the fresh mushrooms. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat, then add the shallot and garlic. When they are soft (about 3 minutes), add the mushrooms and thyme, and cook until the mushrooms are browned and all the excess liquid in the pan has evaporated (8-10 minutes).
While the mushrooms are cooking, use a slotted spoon to remove the porcini mushrooms from the broth, reserving the broth. Chop them coarsely and add them to the pan with the fresh mushrooms, letting them cook a few minutes. Remove the thyme sprigs and discard.
Then take half a cup of the porcini broth and add it to the pan, along with the wine (keep the rest of the broth and add more if you decide you want a little more liquid in your sauce; if you don't, save the broth for another purpose - it's great for mushroom risotto). Turn the heat up to medium high and cook until the liquid has reduced by about half. Stir in the cream and let it cook another few minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Pappardelle (serves 2)
- 1 extra large egg
- Approximately 1/2 cup of flour (use more as needed for desired consistency)
Prepare the sheets of pasta dough as described in our pumpkin ravioli post. Instead of forming ravioli, cut the dough into 1 inch wide strips. This is most easily accomplished using a pastry wheel. Lay the cut strips on a dry towel, leaving a bit of space between each strip they are not touching each other.
Boil the pappardelle in a large pot of water for 1 - 2 minutes, until firm but still tender. Toss with the mushroom sauce described above, and top with parmesan cheese.