Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mushroom Show / Pumpkin Gnocchi with Agaricus

Mushroom season is slowly winding down and while there is probably another month left, the peak is over. Nevertheless we have been eating a lot of mushrooms recently, and I think it would be best if I posted several separate posts about some of the last two weeks dinners rather than one huge one.

First up, we went to the Puget Sound Mycological Society (PSMS) annual Wild Mushroom Show last Sunday! And despite a pounding post-bar-passage-party headache, I had more fun than you'd think possible at a Mushroom Show. Certainly the many trays of different mushroom species was informative and interesting. I was doubly happy that each tray featured the sort of plants and habitat the particular mushrooms can be found in. I hear that the presentations were excellent (Lang Cook of Fat of the Land and Christina Choi of Foraged and Found) but I didn't make either of them, unfortunately.

Some gripes: parking. By 1:00 there were lots of people, and the dirt road they had us parking on became The Somme, with confused one-lane traffic. Also barbed wire and sporadic shell fire. OK not really. Second, the ID table.

One of the main reasons we ended up going was the Identification Table. PSMS experts will sit and identify any mushrooms you wish to bring in. Well a day or two prior Meredith had found a bunch of large white mushrooms growing on campus. Our best efforts had it nailed down (obviously) to an Agaricus. The question was which one? Some are ridiculously delicious. The A. Augustus from earlier in the Summer, for example. Some are poisonous and will make you curse the Porcelain God. So ID is important. But it's a good species, if it's edible. After all, common supermarket button mushrooms are A. bisporus. We had it narrowed down to possibly A. Campestris, but ours were growing under a large pine tree and not in an open grassy field. It didn't stain yellow quickly, or smell like benzene or anything (no A. xanthodermis), it just smelled a bit like marzipan, so we were pretty confident that it was edible but not 100% sure.

Well people brought in mushrooms to ID by the truck full. And it took us about 45 minutes to get to the table, while two people ahead of us had every mushroom in the book identified. I appreciate that you don't know much about mushrooms, and yes, I agree, they're very interesting. But seriously people, limit it to two, maybe three mushrooms and let the rest of us in.

Fortunately it took all of 10 seconds for the PSMS guys to ID ours, and announce to the crowd of onlookers (most of whom had brought inedible species in) that we'd found Agaricus Nivescens and that it was ultra-delicious. w00t! Our ID problem had merely been that Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest did not list nivescens, as there are many species of Agaricus in the NW. Looks like it's time to get an additional book!

Anyhow, we went to campus and picked the rest that were ripe. Then got them home and pondered cooking them. I had a spare pie pumpkin sitting around from the pumpkin beer, I'd only roasted three of the four. So dinner became:

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Sage and Agaricus

I made a pumpkin gnocchi recipe from a pasta book I have, which frankly was a bit of a failure and not worth the listing here. Search the net and I'm sure there's a better one. Mine was a bit vague on the amount of pumpkin and flour, and also I only had bread flour. So they were super sticky and didn't take shape very well. Also I'd never made gnocchi before and the first, mmmm, three dozen were kindof tragic. Fortunately they tasted ok, if a bit chewy. The agaricus was cleaned and sliced up, then sauteed in butter with salt, pepper, and about two tablespoons of fresh chopped sage at the end. Gnocchi was tossed with it. Actually, despite its various aesthetic and structural faults, the gnocchi were pretty good. The agaricus was deeeeeeelicious. Like an almondy button mushroom on crack.

Finally a word on the species. Wild Agarics are known to bio-accumulate heavy metals, like lead and cadmium, so don't eat too much of them. Button mushrooms are pretty much fine though, being grown indoors on fresh compost.


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