Friday, December 19, 2008

What's the matter? I'm a fungi

It's funny, because as a kid, I absolutely hated mushrooms. There was something about their taste that I remember thinking of as being "the flavor of nausea." The very smell of them made me feel sick. My parents had the good sense to realize that mushrooms were the only food item that I disliked, and to leave me alone without fussing too much about it. But I somehow grew out of my hatred for fungi, and ironically, now I love them wildly.

Remember the half pound of organic fresh mushrooms I picked up from Hazel Dell at the winter farmers' market? I'm not sure I can point out all the varieties accurately, but above are shiitakes, oysters, king oysters, maitakes, lion's mane, and creminis.
I wanted to prepare the mushrooms in a way that would highlight their flavor and freshness, so I just sliced up the lot into approximately even pieces and sauteed them in a few tablespoons of salted butter. While they were in the pan I also started several handfuls of penne in a pot of boiling water. Just short of the pasta being al dente, I tumbled the penne into the pan with the mushrooms and added a bit of pasta water and another pat of salted butter. I let the pasta finish cooking in the pan until it had absorbed and been coated with the extra slick of mushroom juices and butter. Topped with a final grind of fresh black pepper, my meal was ready to be eaten.
The succulent, meaty mushrooms made the dish deliciously earthy and decadent (is that a paradox?). In a time of belt-tightening and penny pinching, a half-pound of fresh exotic mushrooms at five bucks isn't cheap, but neither is it an indulgence that is out of reach. Once in a while, you just have to treat yourself, and I'm really happy that I did.

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