July is one of my favourite months. I enjoy the cooler weather, the dark rainy days give me the perfect excuse to hunker down in front of the fire with a book and it’s also Mushroom Mania month.
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A couple of weeks ago I was invited to a dinner which was being held to officially launch the Australian Mushroom Growers Association annual conference and also to mark the national launch of the mushroom industry’s “Mushrooms go Pink” campaign. The dinner was held in the “Graduates Restaurant”, the restaurant run by South Australian TAFE in order to give all of their hospitality students first-hand experience on the front lines. The food, decor and service was perfect and a credit to the students and their teachers – and a credit to the mushroom industry too, whom I discovered are continuing a 27 year association with TAFE and it’s students.
However, that’s not all I discovered. While being simply delicious, mushrooms are also becoming known as one of natures nutritional powerhouses as ongoing research finds out more about them every year. We know already that one serve of delicious mushrooms provides over 20% of the recommended daily intake for each of the B vitamins riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, and the minerals selenium and copper. We also know that they are the only non-animal food to have natural vitamin D, are very low in kilojoules while being energy dense and research reveals that they are filling and dampen the appetite at subsequent meals. But wait – there’s more!
Current, ongoing research is beginning to unveil even more about this super-food – especially it’s role in the prevention of cancer. Since 2006 there have been successive research results published, both here and internationally, indicating that there is a very real link between the consumption of mushrooms and an significantly decreased risk of breast cancer. Extracts from mushrooms have been found to suppress aromatase activity and oestrogen biosynthesis. Oestrogen plays a major role in both the development and proliferation of breast cancer, so suppressing this activity has the potential to reduce the risk. There is now also further evidence to suggest that polysaccharides in mushrooms may actually activate immune cells to attack cancer cells. While increased consumption may offer increased protection, one study found that women eating as little as 10g or more of mushrooms each day had a 66% reduced risk of breast cancer. Needless to say, I’ve upped our mushroom consumption since that evening.
In Australia, 2680 women die from breast cancer each year. That is over seven every day of the year. In October mushroom growers are pleased to be able to show their public support for the fight against breast cancer, through the Mushrooms Go Pink in October promotion. The promotion will see mushrooms throughout Australia packed in bright pink packaging in order to attract consumer attention to Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the Cancer Council’s Pink Ribbon Day on Monday 22 October. Australia’s mushroom growers are particularly passionate about this promotion and through it aim to raise $50,000 to support Cancer Council work in relation to breast cancer.
So – next time you are doing the shopping, keep your eyes open for mushrooms in the distinctive pink packaging and help support further research into this very promising area. In order to encourage you to go out and buy some “Pink” mushrooms, I’m sharing a very simple, but extraordinarily tasty treat that I put together to feed starving teens during the holidays. Really, this can be as easy or as hard as you want to make it. I sometimes make my own dough, but sometimes buy it too, if there is any in the store, or you could buy some bread mix and use that – whatever. This bacony, cheesey, mushroomy carb hit is designed to appeal to teenaged boys especially and it will freeze for later reheating.
- Pre-made yeast pizza dough
- 500 gms strong bakers flour
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 sachet of instant yeast (8 gms)
- 200 mls milk
- 120 mls water
- 50 mls good olive oil
- 300gms mushrooms, sliced
- 4 rashers bacon, chopped
- 1 cup grated tasty cheese
- 4 spring onions, chopped
- 2 tsp dried oregano (I use the imported Italian kind, or my own fresh from the garden)
- 50 mls olive oil
- Whisk flour, salt, and yeast together in a large bowl.
- Heat milk and water to blood temperature and add, with oil, to flour.
- Mix all together until combined in a rough dough.
- Cover and stand for ½ hr.
- Give it a very quick knead, cover again for 1 hour or until doubled.
- Roll out into a large rectangle, roughly 50x40 cms.
- Cut in half and place half the dough on a greased shallow baking tray.
- Preheat oven to 220C.
- Heat oil in fry pan, add bacon and spring onions, saute until bacon crisp. Remove and drain on kitchen towel.
- Add mushrooms to same oil and saute until soft and cooked, sprinkle with oregano, add pepper to taste. Cool.
- Sprinkle base of focaccia on the baking dish with the grated cheese, then sprinkle remaining ingredients over evenly.
- Gently cover with other half of dough and pinch edges together.
- Dimple top of dough with your knuckle, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove from baking pan and cool on rack.
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Whenever anyone asks me what were the high points of our recent trip to Europe I always answer with two simple words – the food. We happily indulged ourselves whenever possible, knowing we would be walking it all off within days and I was pleased to note that I came home carrying no more extra baggage than my shopping.
I was having a conversation about our foodie finds with my friend Kris Lloyd, the hugely talented and multi-award winning Woodside Cheese Wrights, not long after we got back and was waxing lyrical about some butter made from clotted cream (cultured butter) which we had bought on our last day in London. It was part of a significant haul that we took home from London’s Borough Markets (more about that later) for a final feeding frenzy and had made quite an impression. Kris commented that she had recently been “playing around” (her words) with cultured butter, including one which she had washed in whiskey. With the taste of the delicious, golden London lipids still lingering, to say I was eager to try Kris’ efforts would be something of an understatement.
Cultured butter is something of a recent discovery for many Australians, but has been in use for 100’s of years in Europe. The butter which we are used to is what Europeans refer to as sweet cream butter – delicious, but lacking in the depth of flavour of cultured butter. Cultured butter is made in exactly the same way as ordinary butter, but a live culture is added to the cream which is allowed to ripen for some time before being churned, salted (or not) and rinsed. Kris adds the culture to her cream 24 hours before she uses it to make butter, giving the cream time to “clot”. Cultured butter has a richer, deeper flavour which some find somewhat tangy and also comes with a little probiotic boost from the addition of the live culture.
Kris gave me three different batches to play around with – an almost unsalted butter, salted butter and the remarkable whiskey-washed version – and I’ve had a very happy day or two getting to know them. They are all truly delicious and definitely add an extra facet to the dishes I used them in – a Mushroom and Almond Bruschetta with Chevre and Vanilla Poached Oranges with Pikelets. I kept these recipes fairly simple in order to let the ingredients do the talking – there’s no point in using outstanding produce and then smothering it with other flavours and fancy techniques – good food doesn’t need to be tricky. The mushrooms I used came from Marco the Mushroom Man in the Adelaide Central Market and the sublime oranges were in our CSA box from Jupiter Creek Farm – all fresh, local and fabulous. I couldn’t help adding some wonderful Beerenberg Caramelised Onions to the mushroom dish – they finished it off perfectly.
- 500 gms Portobello mushrooms, sliced
- 30 gms toasted almonds, ground as fine as your food processor will allow
- 100 gms Woodside Cheesewright chevre
- 80 gms Cultured butter
- 1 tbsp chopped thyme
- 1 good pinch of salt
- Beerenberg Caramelised Onions
- 2 large slices sourdough bread
- Melt the butter in moderately hot pan, add mushrooms and salt, cook gently.
- When mushrooms begin to soften add the ground nuts and the thyme, continue cooking until mushrooms are cooked to taste.
- Slice bread and toast. (At this point you may/may not choose to butter it with more of the cultured butter. I'll leave you to guess what I did.)
- Pile the cooked mushrooms on the toasts, sprinkle each with a teaspoon or two of the caramelised onions, then crumble the chevre over the top, serve.
The whiskey washed butter was used in an even simpler dish of pikelets with vanilla poached oranges, but the combination was absolutely stunning and much appreciated by the guests to whom I served it yesterday for afternoon tea. My good friend Meg is very partial to a wee dram or two of whiskey and her eyes glazed over just a little while eating these.
I’m sure everyone can work out how to make basic pikelets. As for the vanilla poached oranges – the oranges were simply peeled, making sure all of the pith was removed, sliced about 10mm thick and gently poached for ten minutes in a syrup made of 1 1/2 cups of white sugar, 1/2 cup of water and one vanilla bean, split open and scraped – hardly a recipe at all! I cooled them slightly in the syrup, buttered the hot pikelets with the whisky washed butter and layered the oranges and pikelets, topping with a dab of the precious butter. Eat, then swoon.
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At the invitation of the local mushroom industry, the other day I took a drive up the road to glorious Monarto to check out the home of South Australian mushrooms. Now, those of you who are familiar with Monarto will know that it is a generally unprepossessing part of the world. Of course, it is home to the Monarto Zoo whose praises I can never sing highly enough, but aside from that it is barren, windy and charmless – but even this unlovable corner of the world holds it’s secrets. I’ve gladly written a couple of sponsored posts for Australian Mushroom Growers, to help promote what I think is a tasty and nutritious locally produced food, so I was only too happy to grab the opportunity to learn a little more about the cultivation of this humble fungus.
A couple of kilometres down the road from Monarto Zoo is Adelaide Mushrooms and, believe me, there is nothing humble about this growing facility – it is simply massive. Spread over 360 acres of land with 30 growing rooms, 26,000 square metres of growing space and 20,000 square metres of composting space, Adelaide Mushrooms is the second largest mushroom cultivation facility in Australia. A family owned business run by father and son, Doug and Mark Schirripa, Adelaide Mushrooms can boast an extraordinary level of quality as a direct result of strict control over their mushroom production. This quality control begins with the on-site composting of bales of hay and ends with the bar code on each and every box of mushrooms which leaves the premises, giving them direct computer access to which growing room each batch comes from, when it was grown, who picked it and right on down to where the hay came from which provided the compost in which it was grown.
We all know that mushrooms love the dark and the damp and need nutrient rich compost to thrive. Adelaide Mushrooms begin their mushroom compost with bales of hay which are broken apart and mechanically broken up, sprinkled with a combination of chicken manure and gypsum, then sprayed down to keep them wet. This mixture is kept on the large open composting floors for a week to begin the composting process. The temperature of the gently steaming piles on the open floor will reach 55C before it is moved into enormous 80 metre long closed in bunkers where the temperatures climb up to 85C. Once the hay and manure has broken down to dark, friable compost it is moved into the massive steaming sheds where it is sterilised before being mixed with rich, dark, ancient Irish peat. Unfortunately the only local peat available, which comes from the Mt Gambier region of South Australia, is not old enough and also carries undesirable fungal infections.
The mushrooms are grown in long tiered beds in the grow-rooms which are housed in a 260 metre long shed. Each room has stringent hygiene protocols and is individually computer-controlled to optimise the humidity/temperature levels, with no pesticides or fungicides used on the crops. The resultant happy little white and Swiss Brown mushrooms are greedy for nutrients and will double their size every 20 hours. Once ready, they will be hand-picked by one of 155 employed pickers, graded by sight and boxed all at once which means that the mushrooms are only ever handled the once – thus reducing the risk of bruising damage to this delicate fungus. Each room will be picked three times in five weeks, with each crop becoming slightly sparser than the last – – one room will ultimately yield about 9-10 tonnes. Once the mushroom growing potential is exhausted the rooms are sealed and steamed to 70C to cook the compost before it is removed and sent off to nurseries for sale as mushroom compost.
Once boxed and bar-coded, the mushrooms are chilled down rapidly and dispatched as quickly as possible. In most cases the mushrooms we find in our local South Australian stores will have been picked and packed in the 24 hours prior to them appearing on the shelves. Adelaide Mushrooms exports to many interstate markets too, with delivery timed to within 2 days after picking so there is no chance of compromise in the quality.
Clearly, the stringent adherence to strict quality controls has paid off for the Schirripa’s and Adelaide Mushrooms, who now annually produce 130,000 tonnes of mushrooms and have been named number one Australian mushroom producer for almost 10 years in a row. Currently employing approximately 195 staff members on site, Adelaide Mushrooms is not resting on it’s laurels and has plans for expansion. Exotic mushrooms, like Shitakes and Enoki’s, are currently grown in Tasmania but Doug Schirripa has set aside land for new growing rooms dedicated to their specific growing needs, as well as plans for another 12 growing rooms exclusively for Swiss Brown mushrooms. It seems this hugely successful South Australian mushroom producer will be showing the rest of the country how it is done for quite a while yet.
Mushrooms are not only very tasty and versatile, but also hugely nutrient-dense. For delicious recipes and a wealth of information on this sometimes under-estimated food source check out the Australian Mushroom Growers website.
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I’m sure that most of my readers will be putting together the final details for their Christmas dinner and, with the main features almost definitely decided upon (you have decided, haven’t you?), it is time to look at the side dishes. We’ll be having salads in our house as the weather forecast is for a very hot day here in Adelaide. Of course I have the good old stand-by dishes that I know everyone loves, but each year I try to come up with something a bit special and a little different. This year mushrooms will be starring on our Christmas table in a salad that offers a passing nod to the Middle Eastern origins of the Christmas story.
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As July draws to a close so does my quest for marvellous mushroom meals, but I knew I still had time to squeeze in one more fabulous fungal feed before Mushroom Mania month is over for this year.
This week my travels took me to Unley Road and to a restaurant whose existence I was completely unaware of. Vino Ristorante came as something of a surprise to me, as I had lived in that area for quite a few years before moving up the hill and thought I was pretty familiar with all of the local Unley food palaces. Serving seasonal, traditional Italian food with a focus on Sicilian cuisine,Vino Ristorante has been sitting right under my nose since 2001, but has clearly not escaped everyone’s attention, gaining a reputation for old fashioned Italian home-cooking using fresh, local ingredients and a guernsey as a finalist in the 2011 South Australian Restaurant and Catering Awards for Excellence.