Making magic with mighty mushrooms

20th May 2021 | Eativity editors

As the weather gets seriously chilly, it’s time to make the switch from fresh, light summer salads to more hearty foods that warm the cockles of your heart. Whether you’re a vegetarian, flexitarian or dedicated omnivore, the deliciously rich umami flavour of mushrooms can take any meal from mundane to magical. We give you the fungi fundamentals, including how to prep and cook your mushrooms like a pro, along with the recipe for a tasty mushroom tart that will add some serious oomph to dinner time.

Mushrooms also boast a rather impressive nutritional profile – a single 100g serve gives you more than 20 percent of your recommended daily intake of six key nutrients: B2, B3, B5, B7, copper and selenium. They also offer a good amount of folate, potassium, phosphorus and antioxidants. Mushrooms like shiitake are also high in beta glucan – a form of soluble dietary fibre that’s been linked to improved cholesterol levels and heart health.

Mushrooms are also one of the very few foods that contain vitamin D. In fact, if they’re exposed to sunlight, they can provide 100 percent of your daily D needs – just place your mushrooms in the sun for 15 minutes, and they’ll “super charge” with vitamin D.

Gorgeous yellow oyster mushrooms at The Mushroom Guys’ urban farm in Perth.

Mushroom farming in Australia

Commercial mushroom farming only kicked off here in Australia about 90 years ago when a Spanish migrant named Raymond Mas started the first Aussie mushroom farm in an abandoned railway tunnel in Sydney’s Circular Quay in 1933. He grew his crop directly on the floor of the tunnel and used raised timber planks for easy picking access.

Things have progressed a lot since then. Today, mushrooms are Australia’s sixth most valuable horticultural crop, with 80 percent of Aussie households now regularly buying fresh mushrooms (in the 1970s, the majority of mushrooms eaten in Australia came in cans). While you can find more common varieties like button, portobello, cup, flat and Swiss brown pretty much anywhere, gourmet mushroom varieties – such as king oyster and lion’s mane – are starting to crop up more often. Since you don’t need huge swathes of farmland to produce mushrooms in volume, many urban farmers like The Mushroom Guys in Perth are now branching out with their own mushrooming enterprises using vertical farming methods.

Put down the peeler and banish the scrubbing brush – all mushies need is a wipe with a damp cloth.

Mushroom prep

Using mushies in your meals all starts with the right storage. According to Georgia Beattie, CEO of organic mushroom farm Bulla Park and Australian Mushrooms spokesperson, there’s a reason that supermarkets provide brown paper bags for mushrooms – mushrooms have a high-water content, and brown paper bags prevent them from losing their moisture.

“Storing them in a brown paper bag in the fridge is ideal,” Beattie advises. “That way they stay fresher for longer and will be ready for your next meal.”

Once you’re ready to use your mushrooms, you don’t need to go all hardcore with a heavy-duty clean-up. Just give them a good wipe with a damp cloth to remove any dirt, and then pat them dry. And please, don’t even think about brandishing a potato peeler.

“The other day, a friend was telling me that they peel their mushrooms before they use them,” Beattie says. “There is no need to do this!”

Sautéing your mushrooms before adding them to your meals with ensure you get the most flavour.

Cooking with mushrooms

Mushrooms are easy to cook with, and their savoury flavour and meaty texture make them an ideal natural meat alternative – perfect for pastas, pies and pastries, even curry.

“Try changing up your next stir fry with mushrooms,” Beattie suggests. “A nice mushroom sandwich is also great, so if you’re partial to BLTs, try an MLT next time.

“Also, nothing beats a good portobello in the oven with, salt, pepper, butter and garlic. It’s also great to put in a burger for a midweek, healthy meat-free option.”

If you still like some meat in your meal, but would maybe like to cut down on your meat consumption a bit more, try “the blend”. When you’re making spaghetti, lasagne or burgers, simply substitute half of the mince with finely chopped mushrooms. This guarantees a delicious, savoury meal that also offers added health benefits.

Before we move on to a delicious mushroom recipe to get you started with making your own mushie magic at home, here’s one final tip from Beattie: “Instead of just chucking raw mushrooms into a sauce or casserole, give them a good sauté first,” she says. “This will really bring out all that great mushroom flavour.”

Mushroom, sage and ricotta crispy filo tart

Recipe courtesy of Australian Mushrooms
Serves 4-5
Cooking time 1 hour and 10 minutes

You’ll need:

200g cup mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 leek, finely sliced
2 tsp fresh sage, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
800g ricotta
½ cup gruyère cheese, finely grated
1 egg
8 sheets of filo pastry
1 tbsp butter, melted
Olive oil

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
2. Sauté the garlic and leek with a drizzle of olive oil in a large frypan on medium heat. Sauté until the leek has wilted. Remove from the pan and set aside.
3. In the same pan, add another drizzle of olive oil, add the mushrooms and sauté until they turn golden brown. Remove from the heat and set aside.
4. In a large bowl, combine ricotta and egg and stir until well combined. Follow by adding grated gruyère cheese and a good pinch of freshly cracked pepper. Add two thirds of the sautéed leek and mushrooms to the bowl and stir through, setting the remainder aside.
5. Brush the base and sides of a medium-sized rectangle baking dish (27cm x 21cm) with the melted butter. Lay 4 sheets of pastry over the baking dish, gently pressing down, laying excess pastry over the sides. Gently brush the pastry with more melted butter before laying 4 more sheets of pastry down in the opposite direction.
6. Fill the dish with the ricotta mixture, using a spatula to gently spread it out evenly. Add on top the remainder of the sautéed leek and mushrooms.
7. Place in the oven to bake for 45-50 minutes or until the pastry is a light golden colour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

For more recipe inspiration using the mighty mushroom, head to australianmushrooms.com.au