The Cooking Chronicles: Portobello Delights

Mo Na has been a welcome addition to the City Market this year, and three months in, I am still giddy over the fact that I can get my mushroom fix from the farmers’ market.

I’d been eyeing their Portobello mushroom caps for some time (they are the size of dessert plates!), and though I have purchased them for pizza and stir-fries, I hadn’t yet utilized them to their full potential.

Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

I came across a recipe for stuffed Portobello mushrooms that would make use of other fridge remnants. Namely, I substituted some ricotta filling I had leftover from our favourite stuffed pasta recipe, and in place of the spinach, used beet greens a coworker had given me from her garden.

Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

Stuffed Portobello mushrooms

The recipe still worked like a charm – the time in the oven had softened the Portobellos, and brought out their inherent moisture and mushroom-y goodness. The ricotta just melted with the mild beet greens, and served over some lettuce from Sundog Organics that had been tossed with balsamic vinaigrette, it made for a very satisfying meal.

Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

Served with salad

Portobello Mushroom Burgers

I have seen some restaurants advertising Portobello mushroom burgers on their menu, and was always a bit sceptical – could a mushroom really be as satisfying as beef?

I couldn’t find a recipe to my exact liking, but used this one as a guide for how long to roast the mushrooms (being without a grill has its downsides). I probably should have reduced the time anyway, given the caps were down to the end of their life span, but they still held up pretty well.

The rest of the burgers were composed of ciabatta buns from Save-On, tomatoes from Gull Valley, lettuce from Kimmi’s garden, and vegetable spread for me, and asparagus pesto for Mack.

The verdict? As you probably guessed, it’s like comparing apples with oranges, and given the choice, beef would win out any day. But like the stuffed Portobellos, we were surprised by the meaty consistency of the mushroom and the hearty flavour.

Portobello Burger

Portobello burger with French fries and kohlrabi salad

We served the burger with “easier” French fries (not as crispy as we would have liked, but then again, we should have compensated for the fact that our Greens, Eggs and Ham baby potatoes probably didn’t need to be cooked as long), and a kohlrabi salad, made with Kuhlmann’s carrots and kohlrabi from Riverbend Gardens. The crunchy, spiced salad was a nice textural accompaniment to the burger, and had I julienned the vegetables more finely, it probably would have worked as a slaw-like topping (this was also the first time mistakenly handled Thai chilies with my bare fingers…a fiery sensation burned into my memory that will forever remind me to be more careful next time). We were also surprised how the kohlrabi took to the fennel – I would imagine the same would hold true with whatever flavouring agent is used.

Kohlrabi Salad

Kohlrabi salad

I know I can get Portobellos year round from Sherwood Park-based Prairie Mushrooms too, so I will definitely be earmarking these two recipes for the future.

Wild Fungi 101: Learning All About Edible Mushrooms with the Alberta Mycological Society

Three weeks ago, Slow Food Edmonton members and their guests packed Culina Highlands one evening, all eager to learn more about mushrooms.

No, not those kind of mushrooms – but the edible, wild varieties that are treasured by chefs and foodies alike. In fact, it is estimated that twelve to twenty-five thousand different fungi grow in Alberta, with new species found and recorded every year. That was only one of the many, many things we learned that night from Martin Osis, amateur mycologist and President of the Alberta Mycological Society (AMS). His passion for mushrooms was evident, and though we probably reached our personal mushroom knowledge threshold by the end of the two hour lecture, it was a pleasant ride because of his enthusiasm for fungi.

Prior to the session, my orientation to wild mushrooms was one of extreme caution – growing up, who didn’t have a parent who instilled an acute fear of deadly fairy rings? Unfortunately, after the session, I feel much the same. Though Martin showed us photos of a vast array of edible mushrooms – from the beautiful comb tooth to the western giant puffball (it apparently tastes like tofu) – fungi appear to be like the English language: ripe with exceptions to the rule! It seemed every generality Martin provided (such as, all Portobello mushrooms are edible…), he later countered with an exception (…except those with a yellow stalk and a bad smell).

Still, there is hope for fungi neophytes like myself! Martin recommends going with an experienced picker (the AMS organizes forays, for example) and enrolling in a mushroom course (offered locally by the Devonian Garden). Of course, joining the Mycological Society would be a great start as well, in order to connect with other interested individuals.

Martin and Thea pose with dried morels

What fascinated me the most was how a mushroom foray seemed comparable to a treasure hunt. Martin listed several visual markers that signal the beginning of morel season (which was right around the time of the lecture, actually) – blue violets start to bloom, dandelions appear, fiddleheads multiply – and I could see how exciting and caught up one could get looking for the clues. In June, oyster and red tops (soon to be Alberta’s provincial mushroom) can be found.

As Thea noted at the end of the evening, Slow Food and the Mycological Society share similar values and goals, and of course, a love of learning more about what we eat, which makes such partnered events such a natural fit. Thanks to Darren for putting the session together, and to Culina for hosting!