Imagine an ingredient that captures all your senses. One that is considered not only nutritious but deadly, alien yet immensely beautiful. Welcome to the enormous kingdom of Mushrooms otherwise known as fungi, that are connected to almost ninety percent of all vegetation on earth.
As enormous and tiny as they might appear, mushrooms are vital to all life on earth. They are part of our forest woodlands, gardens and even present in our supermarkets. Have you ever picked up blue cheese, a fizzy drink like champagne, soy sauce, bread, or detergents? Well, all of these and more have fungi present in them.
Deadly or Delicious?
Fungi evolved around one and a half billion years ago and to me, they are the most fascinating things on earth. I love to draw and paint them as much as I love to eat them. But as most of you might know picking or eating the wrong mushroom might just put you on the fast track to heaven. There are those varieties that are well known to most like the Button mushrooms, Shitake, Oyster, and the Ceps also known as Penny buns or Porcini mushrooms. Those are not so well known like the Ear, Coral, Yellow brain, or Beefsteak mushrooms. And those that are mildly or deadly poisonous like the Sickner, Poison pie, and the Death cap mushroom.
Breaking down this beauty.
Have you ever read Peter Rabbit?
Beatrix Potter who wrote Peter Rabbit was one of the leading mushroom biologists of her time and it is said that she was amazed by the beauty and scientific importance of mushrooms. I am as fascinated as she is though mine is more a visual and taste bud driven fascination .As deadly or delicious as mushrooms might be we could all agree that mushrooms are beautiful. So if you ever do forage for mushrooms in nearby forests, or buy them at your local supermarket let’s get to know them better.
The head of a mushroom is called a cap. The stalk underneath holds the cap and its ridges also know as its gills. Mushrooms have spores that are considered the seeds of these fungi. While above the ground, and during their lifetime mushrooms spew out millions of these spores a day giving birth to other mushrooms. Mycelium is the fungus’s root system. Mycelium has been found to extend for miles. As wide as 2,384 miles in the Blue Mountains. Imagine that, amazing isn’t it?
Taking and giving.
The main function of a mushroom is to give the plants and trees nitrogen, moisture, and other nutrients while enjoying its delicious sugars. However, in the case of the Honey fungus, it takes more than it gives breaking down and eventually destroying most vegetation with its digestive juices. This could be potentially dangerous for any forest as it destroys most vegetation in its path. Mushrooms generally feed on living organisms that are dead but others varieties feed n those that are alive. I never did believe this until I watched it recently on Nat Geo it was fascinating and scary at the same time.
So why do I find this ingredient truly magical?
Did you know that Mushrooms are the very reason the world’s organic matter has been silently recycled for years? They are crucial to the breakdown and decomposition of vegetation and the entire cycle of the soil web system. Not only that but a few years ago it was discovered that the mycelium of the beautiful oyster mushroom could be used to bond waste corn matter into blocks naturally and this is then reused to mold biodegradable packaging. Imagine that as an alternative to plastic!
What’s even more fascinating is Mycologists or the people that study mushrooms are now looking into breaking down chemical waste with the help of Mycelium. Antibiotics, cancer research, inflammatory diseases are all looking for and discovering solutions with this fascinating fungi also a close friend of the gnomes.
Spinach and mushroom quiche.
In my humble opinion mushrooms taste delicious in quiches, pies, stir-fried simply with butter, in all kinds of pastas, and in a bowl of warm winter soup. So here is a wonderful recipe for a crusty and devilishly delicious quiche.
One portion Savory Pie dough*
250 gms sliced mushrooms(use a mixed variety for better flavour)
250 gms of chopped spinach
1 thinly sliced onion
240 gms of shredded cheese (Cheddar, Mozzarella, and Parmesan)
240mls of milk
2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
Salt,pinch of grated nutmeg, a little thyme and pepper to taste
9” pie dish
Prepare the pie dough the night before, place it wrapped in a airtight box, and in the refrigerator to cool. Alternatively, you could let it cool for a minimum of two hours on the same day.
The next day roll out the dough in the shape of a circle. The circle should be slightly larger than the size of your tart pan always approximately 1/4 “ thick, around 12” in diameter. Once done place the dish to chill for a while you begin to prepare the filling.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.
Place a slightly crushed parchment paper such that it easily lines the inner surface of the dough. Fill it with baking beans or pie weights. Bake the dough for 15 mins. Remove it and lift off the beans with the help of the parchment. Gently prick the base of the dough with a fork. Return this to the oven and continue to bake it at 175 degrees for 8- 10 minutes or until the bottom of the pie is slightly brown.
To make the filling. Steam the spinach until it wilts and then drain and dry it thoroughly. Sauté the mushrooms and then the onion in a pan with a little butter. Add the thyme, chopped garlic, salt, and pepper. Cook until both the spinach and mushroom are completely dry. Both the spinach and the mushroom mustn’t be soggy at this stage.
In a separate bowl mix the egg, milk, and Parmesan cheese with a little salt, a pinch of grated nutmeg, and some pepper. Spread the mix of the spinach and mushroom in the tart along with the remaining cheese. Pour the egg mix gently over it. Top it with a little extra grated Parmesan.
Bake the quiche for one hour or until the center is just set. Check it at around 50/55minutes. Cool the quiche completely and serve it with a side of salad for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
*Always think of ways to improve flavour. Dried herbs. Varieties of spinach, mushrooms or cheese. Maybe you could substitute the entire portion of milk with some cooking cream, and reduce the cheese. Perhaps some mustard would complement the flavour of the ingredients. Don’t stick to the rules. Use your cooking experience to constantly improve the flavour of your food.
*You will find many recipes for a pie crust on the web. They will generally be enough for two pies so mix accordingly or save the other half in your freezer for another day.
Here are a few tips.
1) Don’t overwork the mix. A gently mixed crumbly dough will give you a deliciously flaky crust. Overwork it and it is will be just too dense.
2) While rolling the dough you will see flaky pieces of butter and this is a great indicator of a dough mixed just right.
3) Work on your pie crust and dough either early morning or late night to ensure that the fat, water, and flour remain cold especially if it happens to be a hot summer day.
Life in general: @cheridafernandez