Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sauteed mushrooms fit perfectly into many contexts, and here is the recipe. We think of mushrooms as a vegetable, but they also show up beautifully as a seasoning, a topping or a condiment. They can be a side dish, and for vegetarians, a meaty main event. Because their flavor is so deep, their texture so strong (never turning to mush, no matter how long they are cooked, and their calorie count so low, mushrooms can be a waist-watcher’s dream holiday food.

Make numerous batches of all-purpose mushrooms as a holiday-season staple, and I guarantee you won’t get tired of them. Freeze them if you want. They freeze, defrost and reheat very well. Add them to a simple broth for a light first course, or spoon them onto brie for cocktail hour.

Choose mushrooms that are firm, evenly colored and dry all over.

In the case of domestic and cremini mushrooms, chose those with tightly closed caps. If all the gills are showing, the mushrooms are old but still can cook well (just don’t serve them raw).

Store fresh mushrooms unwashed in a brown paper bag (they need to breathe, so avoid plastic) in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Clean just before using by wiping with a damp paper towel, not running under water. Avoid peeling, so they won’t lose any flavor. With the exception of shiitake, which should always be stemmed, stemming the mushrooms is optional. Use your judgment and follow your taste.

All-purpose mushrooms

Makes about 4 servings.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

About 1 teaspoon unsalted butter (optional)

1 cup very finely minced onion

4 heaping, packed cups mixed mushrooms (domestic and wild) sliced or minced, a generous pound

1/2 teaspoon salt (possibly more)

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Freshly ground black pepper

Place a large, deep skillet over medium heat. After about a minute, add the olive oil, and swirl to coat the pan. If you like, you can also melt in some butter. Add the onion and saute for about 8 minutes, or until soft.

Stir in the mushrooms, salt and thyme and turn up the heat to medium-high. Saute until the mushrooms are cooked through and their juices evaporate. This should only take a few minutes if the pan is hot and large enough.

Toss in the lemon juice, and add black pepper (and possibly more salt) to taste.

Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.


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