Early spring finds the elusive, beautiful and delectable morel mushroom emerging in and around forest floors – just one of a number of varieties of wild mushrooms, including chanterelle, oyster, maitake, and chicken of the woods, that can be found various times throughout the year around Western Pennsylvania. While foraging on your own can be dangerous if not fully educated in the art of mushroom hunting, fresh wild mushrooms can be found at farmers’ markets throughout the spring, summer, and fall from seasoned foragers. With more than 65 family mushroom farmers in Pennsylvania, producing more than 60 percent of the nation’s mushrooms, you can also find farm-fresh mushrooms year round in your grocer’s produce section.
Whether wild or farmed, fresh mushrooms are incredibly versatile — and they’re great for you. Recently, researchers at Penn State reported the discovery of “unusually high” levels of health-boosting, anti-aging antioxidants in the humble mushroom. The amounts of these antioxidants vary greatly between mushroom species. Among the varieties tested, porcini mushrooms had the highest levels. And although the ubiquitous white button variety has less of these antioxidant levels, it has more than most other foods.
There are myriad ways to incorporate mushrooms into your healthy diet. When simply sautéed in a little olive oil and garlic, mushrooms are fabulous on their own as a side dish, as a traditional accompaniment to grilled steak, or when tossed with pasta and grated pecorino Romano for a delicious main course.
As a meat alternative, finely chopped mushrooms camouflage as ground beef in hearty Bolognese sauce, or in these veggie burgers that will delight vegetarians and carnivores alike.