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Earthy mushrooms give depth to a variety of dishes

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    Woodland Mushroom Quesadillas.


    Orecchiette Pasta with Shiitake Mushrooms and Sugar Snap Peas.


    Oyster Mushroom Soup with Walnuts in Red Wine.

No fungus is more fun than mushrooms, those powerfully flavored, spore-producing bites of goodness. With a huge selection of edible varieties, each with its own texture and nuance, mushrooms in general provide a delightful undertone of earthiness to every dish they enrich.

They’re great in salads, perfect on pizzas and even better in omelets.

But for their most perfect application, you merely have to add cream. There may be no better combination of flavors on this earth than mushrooms and cream.

Think of cream of mushroom soup. OK, now think of really good cream of mushroom soup, not the stuff from a can. Think of such a soup made by a great restaurant.

Pretty amazing, right? You can make it yourself at home without much trouble. A little trouble, yes. But not much.

The oyster mushroom soup here is made up of two distinct parts, the soup part and a separate mix of walnuts in red wine. If you want, you can just make the soup — it’s pretty spectacular as is. The walnuts add a nutty crunch that enhances the mushrooms’ woodsy flavor, but it is the red wine that really makes the difference. Reduced from 2 cups to just a tablespoon, the intense flavor of the wine is smoothed out and mellowed by the cream. It’s wonderful.

With the heady marvel of the soup still coursing through my body, I next made the more prosaic mushroom quesadillas. More prosaic but no less delicious.

Here you mix three kinds of mushrooms — button (ordinary white mushrooms), large portobello caps and sliced shiitakes — and saute them with shallots and garlic.

Before you place the mixture between two flour tortillas and cover it all with cheese, you have the option of mixing in some marinara or adobo sauce. I used marinara, and I’d recommend doing the same even more than I recommend making the walnuts in red wine for the soup.

Without the sauce, the mushrooms are nice. But the sauce makes them queen of quesadillas.

Next up was a dish that sounds complicated but isn’t. This orecchiette pasta dish makes its own sauce out of the liquid exuded from shiitake mushrooms as they cook, and then, when it is served, the sauce collects in tiny puddles in the orecchiette (the name of this pasta means “little ears”).

Minced red onion provides a moderate amount of bite, which is countered by the sweet saltiness of grated Parmesan cheese, and notes of freshness from sugar snap peas help to brighten the earthy mushrooms.

It’s a fine dish to serve at a party, and if you make it for dinner, be sure to make enough for leftovers the next day. It is especially good when you serve it the second day at room temperature as a pasta salad.

Woodland Mushroom Quesadillas

Adapted from “The Whole Foods Market Cookbook,” by Steve Petusevsky (Potter, 2002)

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped shallots
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 pound button mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 2 large portobello mushroom caps, chopped
  • 1 cup stemmed and chopped shiitake mushrooms
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 3/4 cup marinara or adobo sauce (optional)
  • 16 (8-inch) flour tortillas
  • 1-1/2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment or spray with vegetable spray.

Heat olive oil in large pan over medium-high. Add shallots and garlic; saute 1 minute. Add mushrooms, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until tender but not mushy, about 5 minutes. Stir in marinara or adobo sauce, if desired.

Spread 1/2 cup mushrooms over 1 flour tortilla, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle with 3 tablespoons cheese. Top with second tortilla. Repeat to make 8 quesadillas.

Place on prepared baking sheet; don’t let sides touch. Gently press to make filling a uniform thickness. Bake 5 minutes, or until cheese just melts. Cut into wedges, like pizza, and serve immediately. Serves 8.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 464 calories, 19 g total fat, 6 g saturated fat, 19 mg cholesterol, 15 g protein, 59 g carbohydrate, 8 g sugar, 4 g fiber, 1,366 mg sodium, 281 mg calcium.

Oyster Mushroom Soup With Walnuts

From “Cooking With Daniel Boulud,” by Daniel Boulud (Random House, 1993)

  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 cup thinly sliced leeks, white part only (about 2 small leeks)
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 2 bay leaves, divided
  • 4 cups oyster mushrooms, cleaned, stems discarded, sliced (about 1-1/2 pounds)
  • 1 cup peeled, diced potatoes
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups red wine
  • 1/2 cup walnut halves
  • 5 peppercorns
  • 1 clove
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup chives, minced

Heat chicken stock.

Melt butter in another large pot over medium heat. Add leeks, thyme and 1 bay leaf. Sweat leeks (cook until softened but not browned), 4 to 5 minutes, stirring often. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, 10 to 15 minutes or until all moisture has evaporated.

Add heated chicken stock, potatoes, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil; simmer 15 minutes. Add cream; simmer 5 minutes more. Discard thyme and bay leaf, and puree the soup in batches in a blender or food processor until smooth. Pour soup back into pot and keep warm.

In a small saucepan over high heat, combine wine, walnuts, remaining bay leaf, peppercorns, clove and sugar; bring to boil. Simmer until liquid is reduced to 1 tablespoon. Remove walnuts with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. Strain reduced red wine and add to soup.

Slice cooled walnuts. Garnish soup with walnuts and minced chives. Serves 4.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 506 calories, 34 g total fat, 16 g saturated fat, 89 mg cholesterol, 8 g protein, 24 g carbohydrate, 6 g sugar, 4 g fiber, 1,379 mg sodium, 108 mg calcium.

Orecchiette Pasta With Shiitake Mushrooms and Sugar Snap Peas

Adapted from “The Whole Foods Market Cookbook,” by Steve Petusevsky (Potter, 2002)

  • 12 ounces dry orecchiette pasta
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup minced red onion
  • 1 cup stemmed and sliced shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 large portobello cap, diced
  • 1 cup sugar snap or snow peas, strings removed
  • 1/2 cup minced scallions
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook 8 to 9 minutes until al dente. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. Place cooked pasta in a large bowl.

Heat olive oil in a 10- or 12-inch nonstick saute pan over medium. Add onion and saute 1 minute; add mushrooms and saute 4 to 5 minutes. Add sugar snap peas and saute 2 more minutes.

Add sauteed vegetables to bowl with cooked pasta. Toss well, adding a tablespoon or so of reserved pasta water, if needed, for moisture.

Add scallions, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, and toss lightly to blend. Serves 4.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving, 419 calories, 8 g total fat, 3 g saturated fat, 9 mg cholesterol, 17 g protein, 69 g carbohydrate, 5 g sugar, 6 g fiber, 201 mg sodium, 151 mg calcium.

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