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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Chef and culinary instructor Becky Selengut has come a long way since first experimenting as a child with soggy, canned mushrooms, and she reveals new insights about them in her second cookbook, "Shroom."
Since that first encounter with mushrooms, Seattle-based Selengut, 44, has taught cooking classes at a food cooperative, served as a culinary professor at Bastyr University in Washington state, authored a cookbook on fish, and foraged for better mushrooms in the forests of the Pacific Northwest.
She spoke to Reuters about how to cook mushrooms and why fresh isn't always best.
Q: Why mushrooms?
A: It's basically my first favorite food ... It also seemed like it was a good time to write a book about mushrooms because so many mushrooms are hitting the shelves now that people don't know what the hell they are, or what to do with them.
Q: How did you decide which varieties to include?
A: Here in Seattle, you can actually forage for over 30 different kinds of mushrooms in the woods. But I wanted to make sure I got ones that your average cook could find somehow without actually having to go into the woods - either at a supermarket for the first third of the book, the middle third of the book usually at specialty stores or farmers' markets, and then for the last third of the book you can sometimes find them at vegetable or farmers' markets, or you can mail-order them.
Q: Are there any advantages to dried mushrooms over fresh ones?
A: Oh yeah. I only recommend certain mushrooms to get dried because some of them I think lose a lot in the drying. But my favorite three to have dried would be black trumpet, porcini, and morel. And if I could add a fourth it would be shiitake. Those four are arguably just as good rehydrated as fresh, and also the liquid that kicks off when you rehydrate them is an absolute bonus, it's like liquid gold.
Q: You mention that storing mushrooms in plastic isn't a good idea. What's a better way?
A: I call plastic a death coffin for mushrooms, the sure way to make them slimy and nasty and rotten. A paper bag would be the best way to go. Paper bags, and not in the crisper drawer, because you don't want that extra moisture.
Q: Any advice on shopping for mushrooms?
A: For dried mushrooms, you shouldn't accept a bag of broken mushrooms because you never know what the quality was. Make sure you see actual whole pieces of the mushroom or slices, so you can make sure they weren't worm-eaten, nasty mushrooms when they were dried. For fresh, same thing. You want to make sure they're not moldy, not slimy, not completely dried out - the same things you would look for in produce.
Porcini Salad with Pine Nuts and Lemon Salt (serves four as an appetizer)
Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
1 pound fresh porcini mushrooms, sliced
¼ inch thick (cap-through-stem slices)
1¼ teaspoons fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (save lemon halves for squeezing on salad)
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
1 stalk celery, shaved paper-thin into half-moons on a mandoline (leaves cut into chiffonade and reserved for garnish)
About ¼ cup shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano (use a vegetable peeler)
Fresh chervil leaves, for garnish (substitute small flat-leaf parsley leaves)
Preheat the oven to 450 F. Line two baking pans with parchment paper and brush with olive oil.
Lay the porcini slices on the parchment. Brush with more olive oil. Sprinkle one teaspoon of the salt over the top. Roast until lightly browned in spots, 15 to 25 minutes, flipping once after 10 minutes.
In a spice grinder, pulse the red pepper flakes, lemon zest, pine nuts, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt to a chunky consistency.
Arrange the cooked porcini slices on plates. Sprinkle the celery over the mushrooms. Drizzle olive oil over the salads (one to two teaspoons), followed by a squeeze of lemon juice. Sprinkle the pine nut mixture over the top. Garnish with cheese shavings and celery and chervil leaves.
Reporting by Andrea Burzynski; Editing by Patricia Reaney and Paul Simao