Experiment with Mushrooms
Heh, heh. No, not those kinds of mushrooms. Not even wild mushrooms. I’m talking run-of-the-mill brown cremini. Humble fungi like these (and their even humbler cousins, white button mushrooms) have nutrients like niacin that help regulate hormones, and potassium, which helps lower blood pressure. Mushrooms are also known to combat certain cancers. Cancer like my friend Merede is fighting.
When I got the call last week that Merede wanted some girlfriend encouragement and was looking for ways to eat healthier, I brought along a big pot of whole-grain “risotto,” dense with cremini mushrooms. Sure it was healthy. But as Merede inhaled the scents, tasted its rich flavor, and shared the meal amid the laughter and voices of her friends, I guarantee the nourishing benefits went well beyond the nutrient value of the dish.
This week, experiment with cremini in a variety of ways both raw and cooked. Try slicing them thinly and tossing them with shaved celery and garlicky vinaigrette. Or sautéing quartered cremini in olive oil with minced shallots and rosemary and mounding them on top of a sautéed chicken paillard (a thinly pounded chicken breast). Or . . . try my recipe for Merede’s Mushroom “Farrotto” with Roasted Butternut Squash and Shallots. I speak from experience in saying it will truly nourish both body and soul.
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Mushroom "Farrotto" with Roasted Butternut Squash & Shallots
Farro is an ancient strain of emmer wheat. You can find it in many specialty shops and also online at ChefShop.com. The hearty, nutty flavor of the farro pairs beautifully with butternut squash and mushrooms.
1 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
2 cups sliced shallots
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
3 thyme sprigs
3 ounces pancetta, finely chopped
2 pounds cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 bay leaves
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 quart mushroom stock
1-1/2 cups farro
1/4 cup shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Toss squash and shallots with 1 tablespoon olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper and thyme. Spread out in a heavy roasting pan and roast for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally after the first 10 minutes, until squash and shallots are tender and caramelized. Remove from the oven and discard thyme stems.
While the squash roasts, heat remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add pancetta. Cook for 5-7 minutes, until a good portion of the fat is rendered. Add mushrooms to pot and toss well. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, until mushrooms begin to release their liquid. Uncover and increase heat to medium-high. Add bay leaves, garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper, and continue cooking for 12-15 minutes, stirring frequently, until the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms are tinged golden-brown.
Stir in broth, scraping up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pot, and bring to a boil. Stir in farro and bring back to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 25-30 minutes, stirring frequently, until all the liquid is gone and the farro is tender. Stir in squash and shallots and serve with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.