It’s mushroom season in nearby Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. The annual mushroom festival took place in late September and now hearty mushroom dishes are gracing menus of local restaurants as we hunker down in anticipation of winter. The community calls itself “The Mushroom Capital of the World” because over half of North America’s mushrooms come from farms in tiny surrounding communities.
I asked why this particular part of Pennsylvania is so well suited for this crop, and the answer is that it's all a historical accident. There's nothing in the Pennsylvania soil particularly suited for mushrooms. But, nearly 150 years ago, a couple of Quakers decided to grow mushrooms in the otherwise wasted space under their elevated greenhouse beds, using compost (well that’s a polite word), from the many horses pulling trolleys and carriages in nearby Philadelphia. Then in the early 1900’s, Italian immigrants came into the area to work as pickers and they eventually founded mushroom farming operations that serve the country’s markets to this day.
Folks have certain ideas about how mushrooms are grown, but today the compost is pasteurized and sprinkled with drinking quality water. For days, the mushroom fungus grows as a spidery white web. Then, environmental changes in the windowless, temperature-controlled mushroom houses prompts fungi to reproduce. Just before harvest, certain mushrooms can double in size in just one day. All of this growing takes place in family-owned nondescript buildings that line the roads along Chester County.
In honor of mushroom season, I decided to prepare a dish using locally-foraged mushrooms rather than the white button types sold in plastic wrapped containers in grocery stores. These mushrooms are delicate in flavor and texture, perfect as the the main ingredient in a risotto.
1 medium yellow onion, diced fine
4 tbs cold unsalted butter
½ cup dry white wine
12 oz of Carnaroli or Arborio rice
3 tbs olive oil
12 oz mushrooms, brushed or rinsed
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 cups chicken broth
4 tbs Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and Pepper
Bring broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan, cover and keep hot.
Melt 2 tbs butter in a large heavy shallow pan under medium heat. Cut up the mushrooms and sauté them in the butter for 7 minutes or until softened. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add remaining butter to the pan and melt along with 1 tbs olive oil. Add diced onions and garlic to the pan and sauté under medium-low heat till translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the rice, stirring to coat. The rice should become translucent. Add the white wine to deglaze the pan, letting it cook away. Add 1 cup of the broth, stirring to coat. Simmer uncovered till the broth is mostly absorbed. Stir occasionally. Add broth ½ cup at a time as each addition is absorbed. Continue this process till the rice becomes tender and creamy, stirring occasionally.
Add the mushrooms and Parmesan cheese to the mix, stirring to combine, cooking 3-5 minutes longer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.