Autumn is the time for mushrooms. People in Italy who live near forests are madly foraging for fresh porcini mushrooms. Restaurant menus fill with mushrooms, as do the recipe pages of newspapers and magazines. It is poetic that these clever fungi take advantage of the decay and rain of autumn to produce these delightful treats. Mushrooms, technically the fruiting bodies of vast underground fungal networks, are a madly delicious ingredient for cooking.
I recently wanted to make a vegetarian lasagna for a Halloween bash. Zucchini and eggplant, my normal go-to ingredients for no-meat lasagna, were off the table because of some strong dislikes among some kids at the get-together. I figured mushrooms would be a good meat substitute because when deeply sautéed, they take on a flavor much like meat (the Maillard reaction).
I headed to one of the three H-Mart grocery stores near our house. For those not familiar with it, H-Mart is a huge grocery chain selling a full range of groceries for Korean and other Asian cuisines. H-Mart is my first destination I need special mushrooms or other hard-to-find Asian ingredients. The prices are very favorable, also, compared to mainline grocery stores.
Eyeing some oyster mushrooms that the grocer was just stocking the shelves with at H-Mart, I asked if I could take a package out of the big box. He looked at me and said ‘Sure, but this other box ie better’, handing me a giant crate of oyster mushrooms for $10. Thinking, “So, what am I going to do with all these mushrooms?” I took them anyway.
The vegetable lasagna was a big success but I was still left with half a flat of beautiful oyster mushrooms. I got thinking about the classic combo of mushrooms and cream. But I needed some green too, so enter spinach. This simple dish of deeply sautéed mushrooms with spinach, heavy cream, and cheese is fast to prepare and a great meatless meal. You could substitute different greens such as kale or chard and whatever fresh mushrooms you can get your hands on.
- 2 bunches of fresh spinach, stems trimmed, about 1 lb
- 1 lb fresh dark-colored mushrooms, any root ends at the end of the stems trimmed away (I used a combination of oyster and baby bella mushrooms) – see Note 1
- 2 oz / 4 tbsp unsalted butter
- 4 fresh thyme sprigs
- Splash white wine
- 1 cup heavy cream
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
- 4 servings short dry pasta, about 1 lb (I used Mezzi Rigatoni pasta)
- Salt and pepper
- Clean the spinach well to remove any sand by immersing in a large bowl of cold water or by filing your sink with water. Remove by lifting up out of the water, leaving the sand behind.
- Set up a medium pot of salted water and bring to a boil. Boil the spinach for 2 or so minutes, until wilted. Remove from pot by lifting the spinach out with tongs or a spoon and place in colander. When cool enough to handle, squeeze to remove excess water. Place on a cutting board and roughly chop.
- Prepare the mushrooms by removing the stem ends and chopping or slicing into bite-sized pieces. Add the butter to a large frying pan over medium heat until melted. Add the mushrooms, thyme sprigs and a generous pinch of salt. Sauté the mushrooms – they will first release their water, then the pan will start to dry out and the mushrooms will begin to brown. If needed, add more butter.
- Add a splash of wine to deglaze the pan, then add the cooked and chopped spinach. Mix everything together to combine.
- Add the heavy cream and slowly reduce until you create a saucy mixture. Add the cheese and stir. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper to your liking. This is the final sauce so this is your last chance.
- Cook the pasta per the package directions to al dente. Reserving some pasta water, drain and add the pasta to the sauce in its pan. Heat gently for one minute to meld the sauce and pasta together. If the sauce is too dry, add a little of the pasta water.
- Serve with more grated Parmesan cheese.
Note 1 – use dark colored fresh mushrooms oyster, cremini/baby bella, shiitake, morel, porcini