Night of the Living Mushroom

For years, I was terrified by mushrooms. Yes, mushrooms.

Brian likes to tease me because I equate every uneasy, unpalatable situation as "my worst nightmare." Some of which include awkward conversations, tsunamis, mosquitoes, getting kidnapped (adult napped?)...you get the point.

But as a child, smelling any mushroom being cooked in any way was my worst nightmare. Forget eating them. The putrid, earthy, weird odor was enough to relegate myself to my room, door closed, until the fog cleared.

I've always kind of been open minded about trying new things. As kids, we all had pretty hearty appetites; we didn't couldn't fuss over what we wanted or didn't want to taste. But those shrooms. The  smell alone caused a gag reflex--a hideous, socially unappealing reflex--that made me a very unpleasant dinner mate when those ugly brown vegetables were on the table.

Do they even classify as vegetables? I used to think that if they smell that badly, have no sign of vibrancy, and can kill you if you choose the wrong one, they were probably mislabeled somewhere along the line by someone important that nobody questioned...like George Washington Carver. That definitely happened.

Still, after a certain point--I'm going to go with 14 years old, when you're taste buds apparently take a turn for the more mature--I stopped dry heaving in the presence of portobellos.

Then I ate a few.
Then I tasted truffles.
Then I became a shroom addict.
Then I had to eat less because no one should have that much fungus coursing through their body.

No, the moral of the story is not to form a mushroom addiction via truffles. But maybe once in a while we should all remember to do something outside of our comfort zone or "worst nightmare." Imagine if each of us tried something everyday that we deemed unlikely or even impossible?

We might be deliciously surprised with the results.

Creamy Polenta with Wild Mushroom Ragout
Serves 6, Courtesy of Food & Wine

For the Ragout:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 shallots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 pound chanterelle mushrooms, cleaned and halved
1/2 pound oyster mushrooms, trimmed and halved
1/4 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps thickly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup rich chicken stock (see Note)
2 large thyme sprigs

  1.  In a large, deep skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add half of the shallots and garlic and all of the chanterelles and oyster mushrooms and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden, about 6 minutes. Scrape the mushrooms onto a plate.
  2. In the same skillet, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the remaining shallots and garlic along with the shiitake mushrooms and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally until softened and golden, about 6 minutes. Return all of the mushrooms to the skillet, season with salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute. Add the rich chicken stock and thyme sprigs to the skillet and simmer for 5 minutes. Discard the thyme sprigs.
For the Polenta:

2 cups whole milk
2 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup instant polenta (about 7 ounces)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon mascarpone cheese
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped thyme
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped marjoram
1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Salt and freshly ground pepper

  1. In a large saucepan, combine the milk, stock and butter and bring to a boil. Whisk in the polenta and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until thick, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the heavy cream, mascarpone, herbs and Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Spoon the polenta onto plates, top with the mushroom ragout and serve right away, passing more grated Parmesan at the table.

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