What I really love about where I live in Leelanau County is, that after 27 years here, there are still things to discover that surprise and delight me. One recent thing is the fresh Shiitake mushroom stand. Like a roadside farm stand selling corn, or in this area, cherries, or even an overrun of zucchini from a family garden set out for free, Chai sells her homegrown Shiitake mushrooms along a lakeside road in Leelanau County. It is located near the corner of M-22 and N. Lake Leelanau Drive; a place I pass frequently in the summer because it is near our boat dock. This summer, all of a sudden, there it was, the fresh Shiitake mushroom stand, off to the side of the road but mysteriously not near any home. I tried to contact the grower and creator of this unusual stand for an interview but got no response. (See note at the end.) That’s OK because I rather like the mystery of the whole situation.
One of my hobbies happens to be mushroom hunting. Northern Michigan is rife with edible wild mushrooms particularly in the spring and fall, However, Shiitakes do not grow in the wild here. Since I am an amateur hunter, I stick only with the most easily identifiable varieties like Morels, Oysters, Puffballs, and some Boletes. And, although I revel in a long hike through the woods and fields foraging, I have to say, rolling up to the Shiitake mushroom stand and scoring some delectable mushrooms ready for the pan is positively perfect.
I have cooked with Shiitake mushrooms before but this roadside stand caused me to want to know more about them. A google search revealed that they hail from the Far East and are revered for their health benefits today and stretching back to ancient times. Of course, they are used in many traditional Asian dishes but they can also be used in a wide variety of cuisines.
I have a go-to mushroom lasagne recipe from one of my all-time favorite cookbooks called The Perfect Match by Brian St. Pierre. This recipe is a heavenly mix of mushrooms, pesto, and hazelnuts in a béchamel sauce. I was able to find a link (click here) so you can try it too but I highly recommend the entire cookbook for its great wine pairing suggestions and simple but show-stopping recipes. You’ll notice my picture has a layer of something red at the bottom because I did add a chicken and tomato sauce layer to the dish on this occasion but I recommend the recipe “as is” for the best flavor. The Shiitake mushrooms worked well in this recipe and offered up a bold flavor. If you want a more mild mushroom flavor you could mix Shiitake and regular grocery store mushrooms. Finally, if hazelnuts aren’t your thing, I sometimes use cashews.
Now, I’m all excited for mushroom hunting season again. Can’t wait.
UPDATE: I have received an email from Chia, the Shiitake mushroom grower and I hope to arrange a follow-up interview with her in the near future. Please stay tuned.