What is the most sustainable food produce of all? One which requires hardly any water to produce, one that creates no emissions and needs no food to speak of?
At the same time it is amazingly nutritious. It has bags of protein, fibre, vitamins and microelements, it can lower cholesterol levels and accelerate production of vitamin D in our bodies. It’s good for our heart. It’s good for the gut.
And it is supremely delicious and easy to prepare in a dizzying variety of ways.
What is that magic foodstuff? Is it algae or some kind of plankton? Is it insects or worms? Lab-grown meat?
None of the above – it’s mushrooms.
I have sung praises of mushrooms for ages – if I were vegetarian, fungi would be my top and principal meat replacement. They are the closest thing to meat in taste and texture, and rightly so because they are not plants: fungi are a category all of their own, neither plants not animals. Are they safe if you’re vegan? That’s an interesting question which I shall let the relevant parties worry about.
The elite of the capped crusaders are totally free spirits that cannot be grown or produced in an agricultural environment – wild fungi. They are the prize for a valiant forager, not very often of a British tribe. Wild mushrooms don’t like it here – I suspect it’s the dearth of pine forests, hence Scotland is the most fortunate home of British ceps or girolles.
If you manage to secure some wild mushrooms this autumn, you’re in for a treat. Golden chanterelles on bruschetta, a wild mix sauteed with butter, with pasta or poultry, and a few fresh porcinis that need not be cooked at all: raw porcini salad is to die for.
If you can’t get fresh wild fungi, dried ones are second best, sometimes the best like in beef fillet stuffed with dried porcini.
But it’s domestic (hehe) mushrooms that constitute the holy grail of sustainability, eco-credit and nutritional values as they can be grown everywhere, all the time, at a very low cost. And there’s so much you can cook with a handful of shrooms!
Adding mushrooms to a dish is quite like adding cheese: there isn’t much that mushrooms won’t improve. Twice cooked pork fillet is nice, but with mushroom sauce it’s divine. Chicken pie without or with mushrooms? The answer is obvious. Potato soup gains levels of glory with the shroomy additions. And this cheesy filo pie would be rather boring with just cheese inside it.
It starts at breakfast: fried mushrooms are my personal best bit of full English; in fact they can keep the rest. Apart from eggs, because cheese and mushroom omelette is also fabulous.
Their flavour is unsurpassed: with rice, as in three mushroom rice or with pasta as mushroom ragu. Mushroom sauce will enhance any meat, be it pork steaks or meatballs. And they go well with fish: check out monkfish with mushrooms and chorizo.
And mushrooms are an unbeatable meat substitute, on their own, and I have a recipe to prove it. Try flat iron mushrooms and I promise you’ll be sold. Happy cooking!