Shiitake mushrooms: from the East with flavor – Italian Cuisine

Shiitake mushrooms: from the East with flavor

Of most cultivated mushrooms, such as champignon or pleurotus, it is generally said that they are very watery and not very tasty. Asians do not meet this rule shiitake mushrooms which, on the contrary, have very interesting gastronomic properties and also an excellent supply of nutrients.

Where they come from and how they are made
The origin of these mushrooms is lost between China and Japan, the country that gave them their name: "shii" actually means Oak, the wood on which they grow spontaneously. Unlike other wild varieties, they are easily "tameable" and therefore widely cultivated, on suitable natural substrates. The botanical name is Lentinula edodes and come up with rounded hats And dishes, with an irregular surface. In the lower face they are crossed by lamellae dense and have gambetti short and thin, almost too thin for the size of the heads. Color is a light brown, similar to that of the mushrooms called "cremini" or Portobello.

A particular taste
The taste and smell of shiitake do not resemble any of the "western" mushrooms. The most particular note is a mild garlic scent, but they also have the strong one flavor known as umami, the taste that characterizes many dishes of Chinese and Japanese cuisines. In the Land of the Rising Sun they are used for dashi, the delicate and at the same time persistent broth at the base of many jap preparations. There, as well as in China, they are used in soups and hot pot (dishes in broth), in sautéed vegetables and in the filling of ravioli, such as jiaozi And gyoza, both in vegetarian recipes and in those based on pork or beef. The consistency is firm, almost fleshy, and they keep cooking and shape well, without pulping or emitting too much water.

The nutritional qualities
Like many foods typical of Asian cultures, the nutritional virtues of the shiitake have also been deepened and oriental medicine extracts active ingredients used to treat various diseases and ailments. So we know they have a good amount of proteins and contain fibers, mineral salts (especially potassium, selenium and zinc), vitamins D and group B, substances antioxidants like the "Lentinano", responsible for the taste of garlic. More simply, with few calories (just over 30 per 100 g) are a light but nutritious food and suitable for slimming diets and detox regimes, to which shiitake bring all their flavor.

Fresh or dried
Thanks to the increasing diffusion of foreign cuisines, shiitake are becoming more and more familiar in our country as well. So much so that it is possible to find them in the shops of natural food, in some markets and, lately, also in many outlets of the large distribution. Those fresh they come from national crops, while in the shops of oriental specialties they are easily found buckets. In this case, pay attention to the origin: given the spongy structure, mushrooms absorb beneficial but also potentially harmful substances from the substrate and therefore it would be better to choose products Italian or European and in any case, if possible, biological. Having said that, like all mushrooms, to enter our markets, these too must overcome rigidities microbiological checks. A curiosity: in nurseries or on the net you can buy special compounds, containing the spores to start a small but satisfying one home production.

How they prepare
Not growing in the earth, but on a plant support (such as wood, straw or sawdust), they are not very dirty so usually just wipe the fresh mushrooms with a damp cloth and shorten a little the stems which, at the point of cut, may be blackened. This done, they are sliced ​​into strips or cut into pieces, leaving the smallest ones intact. The preparation of the dry shiitake that must be placed is a little longer in the bathroom for 1-2 hours in water, initially hot. Once drained, the stems must detach with the tip of a small knife and discard because, despite soaking, they remain fibrous, hard and dry.

In what recipes to use them
Compared to other oriental ingredients, it is easy to decline western shiitake. In fact, they adapt to practically all cooking and recipes that we would do with our mushrooms, but also with porcini and chanterelles. Yes they can trifolar with garlic and parsley, add barley or other cereals to soups, even in saffron risotto. They match the mediterranean herbs such as sage, rosemary, thyme, marjoram and mint. Stewed and minced, they can be included in the farce of the roasts as in those of stuffed pasta. They are excellent passed on Grill and seasoned with oil and a few drops of lemon juice. They look good with potatoes in Ligurian-style frying pans and in ragù to combine with tagliatelle and white polente. Try them also cooked stewed with seafood, shrimp, squid or cuttlefish. You will discover that the forest can have a new and intriguing taste.

February 2022

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