By Lisa Golden Schroeder
When I was a kid there was no greater treat than when my mom placed a small bowl of fresh mushrooms—sautéed in real butter—on the dinner table. She served up just one lonely bowl for a family of five to share with whatever she’d grilled for summer suppers. Fresh mushrooms (the regular old garden variety button mushrooms) from the grocery store were expensive then and considered rather exotic.
Fast forward about 20 years and I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon at a famous restaurant in Seattle, cleaning a case of foraged golden chanterelles. My reward? The trimmed ends of those gorgeous fungi—their buttery flavor just amazing when simply sautéed. A few years later I became the lucky recipient of my father-in-law’s contraband morels, illegally gathered just inside the border of Yellowstone Park (part of his haul was confiscated by a park ranger—while another huge bag sat hidden in the back of his truck). So what’s the passion about a wild harvest that is essentially a fungus that thrives in the warm wet spring weather, on the forest floor or at the base of dying trees (sounds luscious, doesn’t it?)
You may have heard the term umami lately. This new buzzword is difficult to translate, but it’s basically defined as the “fifth flavor” after bitter, salty, sour and sweet. It‘s often referred to as the perception of taste intensity—or absolute, addictive deliciousness. From the food scientist’s point of view, it’s actually a substance called glutamic acid. The term umami is Japanese, whose use of flavor-boosting ingredients and flavor-enhancing techniques has been practiced for more than a thousand years. Japanese scientists first recognized the flavor-enhancing potential in kombu or kelp broth, leading to the development of Aji no Moto—or MSG. But despite added MSG getting a bum rap for eater sensitivity in restaurants and processed foods, there are lots of foods high in naturally occurring glutamates—including mushrooms. Other foods that have this extraordinarily rich, deep flavor (especially in combination with each other) are ripe tomatoes, Chinese cabbage and other green leafy vegetables, anchovies and other seafood, fermented or aged foods like Parmesan cheese, fish sauce and soy sauce, dashi (broth made from sea vegetables and fish flakes), and cured meats. There’s a wonderfully long-lasting balance of flavor in a dish when there’s a high degree of umami—and it’s a melding of taste that is more than the sum of its parts. So my love affair with mushrooms makes a lot of sense. Try this pasta dish rich with wild mushrooms, teamed up with grilled chicken—a match made in spring heaven.
Hunting wild mushrooms is an art—and it’s important to know what you’re doing. But if you live someplace where you might find the elusive morel or other delicious fungi, find someone to take you out for a look around (though passionate mushroom hunters are pretty cagey about their favorite haunts). Otherwise search the farmers market, where you might stumble on a treasure trove of local delicacies to toss with your fresh pasta and chicken. To clean them, just brush off any dirt.
SPRING FOREST MUSHROOM PASTA
Makes 4 servings
1 package (14 ounces) Just BARE® Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast Fillets
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon dried rosemary or Montreal Chicken seasoning, crushed
8 ounces fresh pappardelle or fettuccine pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium leeks, trimmed, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
12 to 16 ounces mixed fresh wild mushrooms (such as morel, chanterelle, oyster, shiitake), cleaned, sliced*
3 plum tomatoes, chopped
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon butter
Shaved fresh Parmesan cheese, small fresh sage leaves, if desired
- Heat grill to medium-high heat. Rub chicken with 2 teaspoons oil and rosemary. Place on grill; cover. Grill about 10 minutes, turning once, until no longer pink in center.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boiling. Cook pasta until al dente; drain. Heat 3 tablespoons butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add leeks and garlic; sauté 2 minutes. Add mushrooms; sauté about 5 minutes or until they release their juices. Stir in tomatoes, red pepper, salt and pepper. Cook and stir 1 minute longer.
- Toss hot cooked pasta with sautéed mushroom mixture and butter. Serve with grilled chicken, sprinkled with Parmesan and sage.
*If fresh wild mushrooms are hard to come by or super expensive, you can mix them with some domestic button mushrooms or some dried mushrooms, like Italian porcini. The dried mushrooms need to be rehydrated in hot water before sautéing them.