Casserole of Roasted Mushrooms: Perfect with wild or not-so-wild mushrooms

by Terry B on October 14, 2009

An assortment of roasted mushrooms, onions, garlic, spinach, ricotta cheese, spinach and pasta make for a robust, deeply satisfying vegetarian casserole that’s perfect for chilly autumn. Recipe below.

roasted-mushrooms-casserole

Recently we received a review copy of Edible Wild Mushrooms of Illinois and Surrounding States: A Field-to-Kitchen Guide by Joe McFarland and Gregory M. Mueller, published by University of Illinois Press. Since Marion is by far the bigger authority on mushrooms in our kitchen, I’ve turned the book—and the kitchen—over to her this week.

One of the things that surprised us when Terry started this blog three years back was the unexpected cool opportunities and, well, freebies like this, wafting down into our kitchen. This book is one of the most terrific of all these gifts. I. love. this. book. It is both attractive and useful. mushrooms-of-illinois2For those who live in the Midwest and who love mushrooms, but who don’t know much about finding them in the wild, this book is brilliant—direct, charming and, best of all, smart. Its hallmarks are clarity, safety and deliciousness. When you open it up, one of the first things you see is a yellow warning triangle with a skull and crossbones and the words DO NOT IGNORE THIS WARNING—MUSHROOM POISONING CAN BE FATAL.

Yes, it can. Deadly poisonous mushrooms are common throughout the Midwest and, indeed, throughout  the world. Even in winter. As the authors note, “Finding wild mushrooms in Illinois is incredibly easy. They’re everywhere. But that’s the problem.”

And it is a problem the authors show you how to address. First, be safe. “Never eat a wild mushroom you cannot positively identify as being edible,” they note. “This should be obvious—like ‘Never poke a fork into your eye.’” But, as my high school journalism teacher used to say, nothing is obvious. Every year we hear of fatalities among mushroom hunters who were utterly confident that the beautiful specimen they’d just found would be perfectly safe, or they were pretty sure, anyway. It will be useful to you if you spend time in the wild, or even if you shop at farmer’s markets and want to confirm the identity of the mushrooms at that stand.

To help you be certain of what you are eating, this unambiguous guide not only provides excellent photos of each mushroom it discusses [there are more than 300 color images in all], but describes the environments in which they can be found and the times of year they fruit. It speaks with great enthusiasm about the thrill of the mushroom hunt. And about mushroom  hunters [a few of the photos show Illinois morel hunters triumphantly displaying their finds]. It warns you about possible dangerous [or even just dull] lookalikes. It is witty and delightful talking about the celebrity species, like morels and chanterelles, and sweetly enticing when talking about more obscure  species. Of the hedgehog mushroom, Hydnum repandum, the authors write, “Here’s what you want to know: If you like the flavor of Yellow Chanterelles, imagine them with a touch of walnut. You’ll honestly never find enough of these.” They’re right!  That’s exactly what I want to know, and now I intend to find some.

Because the authors understand in their very hearts that the point of hunting mushrooms is eating mushrooms, this wonderful book also includes recipes contributed by Illinois chefs. Many of the recipes in Edible Wild Mushrooms of Illinois depend on particular species—Black Trumpets, Chanterelles, Morels, Hen of the Woods. It’s possible to find these at farmer’s markets and many specialty grocers around the country, but instead we chose a recipe that can be constructed from a mixture of wild mushrooms, or from “wild” mushrooms widely available in groceries.

This is based on a far more elaborate Charlie Trotter lasagna recipe that also called for additional moving parts, such as an arugula pesto to pool around the pasta when plating it. I wanted to keep things more simple. I used equal weights of button, oyster, shiitake and cremini mushrooms. Because I was in a lollygagging mood, I made this dish over a couple of days, starting the roasted mushrooms one evening after work and then completing the casserole the next night.

Casserole of Roasted Mushrooms
Serves 6

For the Roasted Mushrooms
6 cups assorted mushrooms [see Kitchen Notes]
1/2 cup Vidalia onion,  chopped
2 cloves garlic,  finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup mushroom stock
1/4 cup brandy (see Kitchen Notes)
Salt and pepper

For the Mushroom Filling
4 cups mixed roasted mushrooms [above]
3 tablespoons brandy
olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped fine

For the Ricotta
2 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup fresh baby spinach, chopped coarsely
1 clove garlic,  minced

1 pound broad egg noodles
1-1/2 to 2 cups freshly grated Romano cheese

Roast the mushrooms. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Coat a roasting pan with olive oil and place the 6 cups of mushrooms in the pan—I used a four-inch-deep rectangular roasting pan. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over everything and toss with your hands. Then add the chopped onions and garlic and toss with your hands again. Finally, pour the brandy and stock around in the pan. Season very lightly with salt and pepper. Cover the pan with foil and bake for about half an hour. You want the mushrooms to just become tender, not very soft and collapsed. Take the pan out of the oven and let the mushrooms cool in their juices.

Make the mushroom filling. Drain the pan juices into a saucepan, and save them! Chop the mushrooms. I used a food processor, but you can also chop by hand if you are in need of a meditation. Add the chopped mushrooms to the saucepan. When you are getting ready to assemble the whole, add the 3 tablespoons of brandy, olive oil and rosemary to the saucepan and heat gently until just barely warm.

Prepare the ricotta. In a medium bowl, mix together the cheese, garlic, spinach, salt and pepper, and stir until blended.

Begin the assembly by preheating the oven to 375ºF and cooking the pasta in salted water until it is just al dente. Drain it thoroughly, then plunge into hot water. Drain again.

Lightly coat a baking dish [see Kitchen Notes] with olive oil. If the dish does not have a lid, you will also need some aluminum foil to cover.

Assemble the casserole. Begin with  a layer  of pasta—use about a third of the pasta. Then spread a layer of the mushroom filling, using about half. Sprinkle on a layer of grated Romano cheese. Spread the ricotta over this. Then add another layer of pasta, again using about a  third of the pasta, then the remaining mushroom filling, then some Romano and the rest of the ricotta. Finish with a final layer of pasta. You are still reserving about 3/4 cup of Romano.

Cover the casserole and bake  it for about 40 minutes. Remove the lid and sprinkle with the remaining Romano cheese. Bake it another 15 minutes, with the lid off, so that the cheese becomes melted and golden brown.

Take the casserole out of the oven and let it rest about 10 or 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

Kitchen Notes

The dish. I used an ovenproof casserole, approximately 8 x 10, with a glass lid.

The brandy. We use E&J Gallo very cheap California brandy. It’s actually quite good for cooking—the ghastly harshness burns off in the cooking,  leaving a lovely toasty caramel flavor.

The chopping. You don’t have to chop the mushrooms. The next time I make this dish I will leave the mushrooms whole. I am liking the thought of that.

The sauce. And, should you wish to sauce it up when plating, you have several options that would be tasty—pesto, as Charlie Trotter suggests; a simple tomato sauce; even a béchamel. I really like this unsauced, though, to honor the earthiness of the mushrooms.

The book. Finally, one more comment about Edible Wild Mushrooms of Illinois. This book is about clarity and safety and the pleasure of good food, but it is also about beauty and the world—holding an awareness of the seasons, the weather, the sun and earth. It helps you remember how wonderful it is to be alive.

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Onepot October 14, 2009 at 5:16 am

Your post awakens a fresh regret. My husband passed on what turned out to be a HUGE chicken of the woods mushroom just the other day, just the around the corner from our place. We later learned from the Evanston Farmers Market mushroom guy that: a) this mushroom is edible and DELICIOUS!; b) it goes for ~$15 per pound. And when we went back to get it, it was gone…

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) October 14, 2009 at 11:36 am

As the parent and frequent host of grown vegetarian children, I’m always looking for great main dish recipes that will also satisfy the non-vegetarians at the table. Mushrooms have that amazing mouth feel that seems to work for everyone. One of these days, I want to find a forager who will walk my property with me and point out what is edible and what is not.

Erica October 14, 2009 at 2:02 pm

This looks delicious! As a mushroom lover, I am going to try this! Also, I never really realized that good mushrooms grew and Illinois. And to think, I’ve lived here all my life…

altadenahiker October 14, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Oh gosh, must have this before the week is over. But now I have to know — do you and Terry actually go mushroom hunting? Even with a fully illustrated book, I just don’t think I’d have the courage to take a bite. Which is a pity, because mushrooms spring up all over LA after a rain.

Marion October 14, 2009 at 4:26 pm

Onepot, oh, dear, I am so sorry (and $15 a pound? wow). But maybe you can find another one before winter sets in (optimistic, I know–the cold is setting in so early this year). And of course, better safe than, well, dead.

Lydia, we too are always looking for those satisfying vegetarian meals for our kids and their friends, things that are more than a peanut butter sandwich or macaroni. Now that the holidays (and the flocks of visitors) are approaching, the pressure is on.

Erica, I hope you like it!

Altadenahiker, I used to actually go mushroom hunting, in other parts of the world, on a regular basis, and in the summer chanterelles were a regular thing on my table. But I am sorry to say being sensitive to the seasons and getting out in the field isn’t so easy when you’re smack in the middle of Chicago.

dani October 14, 2009 at 6:01 pm

This sounds sooo good! And thanks for the extra tip about leaving the mushrooms whole. We definitely will have to try this soon.

Shauna October 15, 2009 at 12:04 am

Yum! I’ll have to move back to Illinois soon! (ha!) Really- it sounds marvelous!

Laura October 15, 2009 at 2:58 am

Marion that is so cool that you are so into mushrooms, and who knew such a lovely book even existed?! The casserole looks to die for…definitely will be making an appearance in my kitchen soon.

Alta October 15, 2009 at 12:26 pm

This sounds so yummy! I would love to have a bite.

Ronnie Ann October 15, 2009 at 1:58 pm

Oh Marion…soooo yummy-sounding. Must. Have. Now. Thanks!! Also love what you wrote about the book. Yes…that’s the real beauty. But reading it while eating a piece of the casserole would be even better.

Toni October 15, 2009 at 4:35 pm

My husband had a mushroom identification book which we used in New Mexico. I remember coming back from mushroom hunting with the entire back of our Toyota Land Cruiser filled – and I mean FILLED – with boletus mushrooms. He built drying racks and our entire dining room table was stacked high with these racks for about a week. But we had porcinis for over a year!

And after spending 2 weeks in cattle country, this casserole has my name written all over it! Yum, yum, yummmmmm!!!!

Marion October 16, 2009 at 1:24 pm

Dani, thank you!

Shauna: We’ll leave the light on.

Alta, I hope you try it some time.

Ronnie, actually, a version of that is one of my guilty pleasures: reading a really good cookbook while eating something I’ve just fixed from another cookbook. Delightful.

Toni, let us know how it turns out!

Marion October 16, 2009 at 1:26 pm

And Laura, this truly is a cool book. Years ago I had another mushroom guide which was massive, if anything too massive. It was coffee table sized and not something you could tote around in the field. This Illinois book, on the other hand, can just be slipped into your daypack.

maggie October 16, 2009 at 1:43 pm

What a nice-sounding recipe. Fall is the perfect time for this dish! Though mushroom hunting always has made me a little nervous.

Madame Fromage October 16, 2009 at 9:27 pm

Mmmm, this is a great review. My mom, who lives on the Wisconsin/Illinois line may just find this in her stocking come Decemeber. I can’t wait to try the cass. I love the idea of combining mushrooms and ricotta in one bake-a-licious rectangle. Thanks for a great read on a rainy day.

Marion October 16, 2009 at 9:42 pm

Maggie, thank you! Only try it if you are completely confident.

Madame Fromage, this would really make a great gift for her.

UPDATE FOR ONEPOT: According to the guide, you should go back to the same spot next year and check–that variety likes to come back year after year in the same place.

Terry B October 17, 2009 at 12:27 am

Hi, everyone. I’ve been kind of staying out of the way here since Marion made the lovely casserole and wrote this lovely post about it. But I did want to respond to Toni’s comment. She mentioned she’d just gotten back from spending 2 weeks in cattle country. Well, she has written a very thoughtful post on how food gets raised in this country and why it’s a good thing more of us are putting more thought into how our food is produced. Do give it a read.

Onepot October 17, 2009 at 6:38 pm

Thanks, Marion. We will definitely go back next year.

Shandy October 18, 2009 at 8:19 am

What an amazing casserole! Living here in the great Northwest, outskirts of Seattle, we have many choices of mushrooms and I love them dearly. What a great recipe to try using our own mushrooms. Thank you for sharing =)

Miss Cheesemonger October 19, 2009 at 9:10 pm

This looks like a GREAT recipe. I adore all of these ingredients, and I’ll definitely try it soon!

Sarah October 20, 2009 at 1:32 pm

I Googled “blue kitchen” because I just painted my kitchen blue and I wanted to see what sort of cabinets/countertops other blue kitchens had, but lo and behold, I found your blog instead! I love cooking and this casserole looks great! I’ll be subscribing to your blog from now on!

sweetbird October 26, 2009 at 10:46 pm

This looks delicious. I took a mycology foraging class last year and though it was very informative and tons of fun, I’ll never have the guts to go foraging on my own for more than morels.

Chip November 15, 2009 at 8:13 pm

Mmmmm!

BTW, it’s worth noting that when a recipe says “pan”, it’s made of metal. A baking or roasting “dish” would be made of glass or some pottery thing.

Naomi November 11, 2012 at 1:47 am

Hi folks! I love how much this recipe respects the mushroom focus – I’ve been looking all over the internet for a good recipe to utilize the mushrooms we foraged today (outside of Portland, OR) and this is the first that isn’t just cooking them to death and hiding their flavors – we’re headed to the store now to get the ingredients. My only problem is that I’m afraid the texture of the egg noodles will be too similar to the cauliflower mushroom we’re cooking the casserole with!

Marion November 11, 2012 at 4:39 am

Naomi, the type of noodle you choose is flexible. Try another kind, like fusilli or penne rigati, if you don’t think the egg noodles will be different enough from the species of mushroom you use. Having said that, I want to add that the noodles themselves develop a slight crunch from baking atop the casserole, so their texture does feel distinct. We hope this turns out well for you, and we envy your haul!

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