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In Season: mushrooms

In the first of our new guide to seasonal foods, top chef Paul Kitching's going to be looking at mushrooms, the beefsteak of the vegetarian world and a culinary staple for many food lovers.

There are around 2,000 varieties of mushroom currently eaten around the world
There are around 2,000 varieties of mushroom currently eaten around the world

Mushrooms are one of the most versatile ingredients around, whether you’re making a hearty stew or a Chinese delicacy, they can always add something special to any dish. However, did you know that there are around 2,000 different species of edible mushrooms currently eaten around the world?

HeraldScotland food expert Paul Kitching, from 21212 in Edinburgh, is a big fan of the edible fungi and says that using them during November, when they are in season, makes them even better.

He said: “Mushrooms are a hugely important ingredient and November is a great month for them.

“Ask any chef from a Michelin star restaurant to a corner cafe and they will tell you that the four ingredients they always have in their kitchens are tomatoes, onions, garlic and mushrooms.

“There are so many things you can do with them from using them in a full Scots breakfast to having them in a risotto with truffles.

“Button mushrooms are my favourite but there are also the exotic and wild ones like chanterelles, which have got such a unique flavour, and the king of kings, truffles, which you can buy tinned and put in gravies and stews.

“They are an invaluable asset and nothing grows faster.

"I remember when I worked with a guy who grew button mushrooms, he used to come into the kitchen with a tray and put it in a dark cupboard and when we took it out the next day we had a bed of mushrooms. They were the most beautiful little mushrooms I have ever seen.”

However, Paul was not always a fan of the tasty treats.

He said: “A lot of people are a bit frightened by them. When I was a kid my mum used to do a fry up on a Sunday. She would have the bacon and the mushrooms in the same pan and I used to think that the mushrooms were meat, like little snails. They really freaked me out and it was not until I started at my first Michelin star restaurant that I realised the value of them.”

When it comes to cooking, Paul has a few suggestions to get the best out of any mushrooms.

He said: “One of my favourite things to do with them is to take button mushrooms, dry them, slice them up and put them in the oven to make mushroom crisps and you can go one step further by blitzing them into a powder to create a mushroom oxo.

“You can make a mushroom duxelle by frying off some onion and garlic, chucking in some mushrooms and maderia, white wine, water and chicken stock then blitzing it and you’ve got mushroom marmite. Adding the duxelle to sauces and gravy will also give them a bit of zing.

“There’s also white mushroom soup. Put a quarter pack of butter and a pack of mushrooms in a pan, stir them and cook for 20 minutes, checking regularly. Then add in two pints of water and cook for three hours. Add some cream and you’ve got the richest, most wonderful winter soup and, if you want to get clever, you can add truffle oil.

“Mushrooms are beautiful. Chop them up, fry them and eat them, they’re perfect.”

Here are 10 more fascinating facts that you might not know about mushrooms.

1 The ancient Egyptians saw mushrooms as a plant of immortality and a food that was only fit for Royalty

2 Roman soldiers ate them before going into battle because they believed mushrooms would increase their strength

3 A portabella mushroom usually contains more potassium than a banana

4 The ancient Greeks believed that mushrooms had magical healing powers

5 Mushrooms are 90% water

6 They were first cultivated commercially in France in the late 19th century

7 Some scientists believe that mushrooms spores, which are made of chitin, the hardest naturally-made substance on Earth, could be capable of space travel

8 The largest living organism found was a honey mushroom, which covered 3.4 square miles of land in the Blue Mountains in eastern Oregon

9 People in mid 15th century Europe believed mushrooms were grown by evil spirits

10 The fairy rings at Stonehenge are some of the world’s oldest living mushroom colonies and can be seen from the air.

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