Enjoy earthy-flavored mushrooms in antipasti and soup this fall – KCRW

Funghi trifolati, or mushrooms sauteed with garlic herbs, are endlessly versatile. Photo by Shutterstock.
Mushrooms are little pieces of the forest floor that come to rest on our plates. We associate them with autumn because in the wild, they are often triggered to pop up when days shorten conditions are temperate but moist. They are an unusual food that brings a characteristic earthy flavor to whatever dish they’re in. But because of their porosity, they also play very well with others, allowing flavors of co-ingredients to marry. Garlic herbs in particular love mushrooms. I can go weeks without using a single mushroom, then I remember them start a period of mushroom-heavy rotation. A few dishes are always in rotation.  
The first is funghi trifolati, the simplest of dishes in which the mushrooms (I like using cremini or white button-size mushrooms) are sautéed in olive oil with garlic and parsley. You can slice them or keep them whole, depending on how you will serve them. But I prefer to cut smaller mushrooms in quarters vertically, keeping the stems. Once you have them, they can be served alongside roasted peppers and good mozzarella as a first course. Often my girl dinner will be bruschetta, which is simply toasted bread rubbed with a garlic clove and drizzled with EVO piled high with the mushrooms, and maybe a few gratings of parmigiano reggiano. You can add them to risotto or pasta dishes, and they make a terrific bechamel-based lasagna or addition to stuffing. 
There are a couple of tricks, however, to making sure you have lovely caramelized mushrooms instead of a flabby mess. A couple of methods lead to the final result. I do it the most traditional way by simply sauteing the mushrooms in batches that just cover the bottom of the pan I’m using. Heat the pan, add a drizzle of olive oil, then add the mushrooms, and let them sit for a minute before tossing them in the pan. That initial contact with the heat of the pan allows the mushrooms to caramelize and intensifies their flavor. 
I don’t add salt to the mushrooms until they are completely cooked and off the heat. Salting too early will cause the mushrooms to purge their liquid, which you will then have to cook off completely, which is the other way of sauteing mushrooms. You let the mushrooms purge their liquid, then cook it off and brown them. 

Stuffed mushrooms are an easy make-ahead appetizer. Photo by Shutterstock.
I also love stuffed mushrooms. For these, I snap out the stems and chop them up. If I think I’ll need more for filling, I’ll chop a couple additional mushrooms. I like to prebake the mushrooms to pull out the excess moisture and concentrate their flavor. Then I start with a sauté of minced onion, then add the mushrooms with a bit of garlic, salt and pepper, and a tiny bit of very finely minced rosemary. A little goes a long way. I then add unseasoned breadcrumbs to the mix — just enough to hold the chopped mushrooms together. Sometimes I’ll add parmigiano or another cheese like gruyère. Then I’ll stuff the mushrooms and roast them just until the filling sets and browns a bit. People love these. I can make a meal of them with a side salad. 
I like this recipe for its simplicity, but I bake my mushrooms before stuffing them. Simply place the mushrooms gill side up on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with EVO and season with salt and pepper. I like to lay rosemary branches on top of them. Bake in a 375-degree oven until the mushroom liquid pools in the caps. Remove from the oven and add the liquid from each mushroom to the bowl of stuffing. Then proceed with the recipe.

Mushroom barley soup is the cold-weather bowl you need. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
One way I mark the change to cooler weather is to make mushroom barley bean soup. Mushrooms take the relatively bland combination of beans and barley and transform it into a bowl of warming, filling comfort. I usually start this soup with a saute of carrots, onion, and celery, to which I add chicken broth, a handful of pearled barley, and a little cooked white beans. I like adding dried mushrooms to the soup, especially porcini. They bring that deep winy flavor. I also love how the mushroom soaking-water (yes, even though it’s a soup, I always soak my dried mushrooms first in tepid water) adds so much flavor to the broth. Here is my recipe for the soup using a pressure cooker, but you can make it using the stove top, just use canned white beans. Here’s another recipe you might enjoy.
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