Foodie Firsts: Making Friends with Mushrooms – Part 1 (with Recipe for Italian Vegetable Pie)

wooden spoons-001Foodie Firsts is a Move Eat Create weekly feature focusing on my adventures in the world of food.  Over the course of a few short years, I have transformed from a picky, fearful eater to a curious and open-minded foodie.  In a commitment to continue to expand my culinary experiences, I have started Foodie Firsts.  Each week I will commit to trying something new and sharing that experience with you.  My endeavors may include experimenting with cooking techniques I’ve never tried before, testing a single new ingredient, or drawing upon my creativity to combine foods in ways I never imagined.  Whatever it is, I will eat (or maybe drink) it and share it all with you.  You can decide for yourself whether you, too, would like to try.  Let’s be bold and eat good food!

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You know how people often say they have a love/hate relationship with something?  How they lament about being torn between the benefits and satisfaction of something and the pain or challenges that very thing may cause them?  You know that, right?

Well, I have had a hate/hate relationship with mushrooms for as long as I can remember.  There’s been no love.  None.

Not.  One.  Ounce.

mushrooms on chopping board - edited

To be fair, I haven’t eaten a lot of mushrooms in my life, but, really, it didn’t take me long to develop a belief they were the worst food ever.  They were slimy.  Or mealy.  Or slimy AND mealy.  They were overcooked or undercooked.  They tasted sort of like dirt and they took up large portions of ingredient real estate that could have been used for other, less offensive items.

I guess this is the post where I tell you how I REALLY feel.

Here’s the catch, though, I know how good they are for me.  I know that they bring an incredible amount of nutrition to any meal and I’m on board with that.  After I read Super Immunity by Joel Fuhrman (LOVE this book, by the way), I was convinced I needed to figure out a way to start over with mushrooms.  Fuhrman is a big fan of what mushrooms can do for our health and I’m a big of Furhman, so I decided that we needed to make amends, mushrooms and I.  I thought maybe it was time I give them another chance.

Slice on plate 4 - edited

It was going to be tricky, as I was still holding a bit of a grudge against them.  But, here’s where my Foodie Firsts column came in to play.  I had NEVER cooked with mushrooms and I had NEVER eaten a mushroom I liked.  I had the opportunity for two firsts and decided to view that a challenge to take on.  I had to start by considering my mushroom options.  After some discussion, I was able to discern I would be best to avoid button mushrooms.  A friend let me know that it was likely these types of mushrooms I had generally been served in restaurants and had spit out in slimy horror.  This was helpful information.  Button mushrooms were flagged as off limits for now.  I was also gently steered away from Portobellos for the time being; it being suggested those might be best left for after developing a bit more mushroom tolerance.

So I knew what to avoid.  Excellent.  Next, I needed to know what to make.  I wanted to try something that would definitely feature a hefty dose of these little fungi, but would also have familiar and likeable components.  I didn’t want to just dive right into a plate of cooked mushrooms with no other food around, if you know what I mean.

I decided on Italian.  Specifically, I decided on an Italian vegetable pie.  This vegetable pie would have many items I love (onions, tomato sauce, garlic, bell peppers) along with a hearty portion of mushrooms.

My course was set.

Layering up 3 - edited

Knowing what kind of mushrooms NOT to get helped guide me at the store and I settled upon a bag of crimini mushrooms to feature in my vegetable pie.  Italian mushrooms for Italian pie.  Perfect.

The criminis that I bought were pre-sliced (fancy), but I wanted them chopped a bit smaller, so I took care of that at home.  I will say, as someone who finds chopping vegetables thoroughly pleasant and at times even therapeutic, going to work on these mushrooms was very enjoyable.  The ease at which my chef’s knife moved through them was quite satisfying.

The mushrooms were cooked briefly with other filling ingredients for the pie, layered up with the noodles and sauce, and baked for a short while.  When the pie was ready, I was nervous.  I wanted to love it.  I wanted to love THEM.  But I was totally unsure of how it was going to turn out.

Onward I went.

Slicing up the Italian pie, I dove in with gusto.  I decided to just take a leap of faith in regards to this meal and tried to eat without the memory of past experiences coloring my tastebuds.

And?

Cooked in skillet - edited

I was rewarded.

It was GREAT.  It was REALLY GREAT.

This was a perfect re-introduction to mushrooms, as I certainly did know they were on my plate, but they held their texture quite well and I ate them in forkfuls with other familiar and delicious ingredients, not having to be the only thing I tasted in each bite.

You may have noticed that I titled this post ‘Making Friends with Mushrooms – Part 1’.  Because there are so many varieties of mushrooms, as well as an abundance of preparation options for them, I have decided I will do another post or two featuring the mushroom family.  And, I’m actually looking forward to it, which is nice.

Notes & Final Thoughts:

Serving Suggestions:  I have to say the Italian Vegetable Pie I made was quite good.  It hit all the right notes for those who love lasagna or Italian casseroles, but provided a new twist on these old favorites. The recipe is below if you, too, want to give it a try.  It’s filling, produces an enticing aroma while it cooks, and makes a lovely presentation, in addition to just tasting really good.

Lessons Learned:  Be flexible and creative when trying to incorporate ingredients that may not initially appeal to you.  Once I stopped my rigid thinking about mushrooms (ALL mushrooms are bad) and considered that maybe the types or preparations I had experienced in the past just weren’t the best ones for my particular tastes, I was able to think about this ingredient in new ways.  Drawing upon positive food experiences as a base and finding ways to incorporate mushrooms into food I already knew I would enjoy has opened up new cooking doors for me.

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Italian Vegetable Pie mushrooms in bag - edited

Adapted from Cooking Light

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

  • Cooking Spray
  • 1 large bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 10 oz crimini mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 14 oz can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • 10 oz firm tofu, drained, pressed, and crumbled
  • 3 tblspns tomato paste
  • 1/2 tspn dried oregano
  • 1/4 tspn crushed fennel
  • 1 tspn crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tspn salt
  • 1/2 tspn black pepper
  • 28 oz marina sauce of your choice
  • 8 lasagna noodles
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 3 tblspns vegan Parmesan

Method:

  1. Boil lasagna noodles according to package directions, set aside when done, and preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Coat a large non-stick skillet with cooking spray and place over medium heat.  When warmed, add bell pepper, onion, and garlic.  Cook, stirring frequently, 4-5 minutes until softened.
  3. Add mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and crumbled tofu.  Stir to mix all ingredients and cook 3-4 more minutes.
  4. Add tomato paste, oregano, fennel, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper,  Stir to coat vegetables with seasonings and then add marinara sauce.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and let simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat.
  5. In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs and vegan Parmesan and set aside.
  6. Coat a 9-10 inch pan or cast iron skillet with cooking spray.  Arrange cooked lasagna noodles in a circular pattern around the pan, so that they line the bottom of the pan, with half of the noodles hanging over the edge.  Spoon half of the vegetable-marinara mixture onto the noodles.  Fold the hanging edges of the noodles over to cover this part of the filling, then spoon the rest of the vegetable-marinara mixture on top.  Sprinkle bread crumb and vegan Parmesan mixture evenly over the top.  Bake for 20 minutes.

My Hoarded Life + A Recipe: Vegetarian Lasagna Soup

I have a problem.  I hoard recipes.  Recipes in cookbooks, recipes online, recipes from magazines, recipes snapped with my camera phone – it doesn’t matter.  If I see it and it sounds remotely good, I’m getting it for myself.

This becomes a problem because: A) I do not, in any way, have even remotely enough time to make all of the recipes that I stash; B) I keep stashing more of them anyway; and C) I don’t have the time or energy to organize them into any meaningful system.

As a result I have folders of recipes that I once tried to organize on my computer, random bookmarked recipes that scroll on and on for days also on my computer, hundreds of emails from myself with links to recipes that I’ve found while reading blogs or articles on my iPhone, binders full of photo-copied recipes that I get from library-borrowed cookbooks, a basket stacked full of magazines with dog-eared pages where tasty recipes live, a bookshelf of my owned cookbooks in my dining area, and random scribbled notes and recipes that I’ve printed and written notes on tucked away into various corners of my life.

It’s mad.

It’s really, truly mad.

I need a system and a professional organizer, but it’s not likely to happen soon.  The funny thing is that many recipes are for the same or similar item, but I like to look at slightly different methods and then alter things from various sources to fit my needs and preferences.  So, instead of one cinnamon coffee cake recipe, I have like, oh, maybe 26.

Sometimes, I know I want to make something but I’m so overwhelmed with options, that I simply go with something I’ve just recently seen.  It’s easy to find because it’s at the top of the pile or the bottom of a list somewhere and that can make all the difference in the world when it comes to influencing my cooking decisions.  And sometimes when I do this, I strike recipe gold.

Lasagna Soup - Edited

Such is the case with this recipe here.  I’m not going to type it all out for you because this is one recipe that I followed exactly.  Okay, I added more garlic, but I always add more garlic.  Besides that, I changed nothing.  I’ve made this a couple of times now and just totally love it.  It is one of the single most delicious and satisfying meals I’ve eaten.  I will eat this all year, in any season, because it’s so wonderful, but I wanted to be sure to share the recipe before the last winter days slipped away.  There is something about a bowl of this soup on a cold, dark evening that is utterly magical.

By the way, if you haven’t ever checked out Joanne’s blog (where this recipe hails from), Eats Well With Others, I highly recommend spending some time poking around there.  It’s wonderful – one of my most trusted for quality recipes, for sure – but also just a consistently great read.

Here you are (click through for link to recipe):  Lasagna Soup as found on Eats Well With Others (plus some extra garlic).