Tiny Mushrooms — Big Flavor

Keith Silva is the owner of Lawai Valley Landscaping & Yard Service, which offers more than 18,000 plants. Silva also grows mushrooms on his 4.5-acre property with his partner, mycologist Bob Bruce. Lawai Valley Mushrooms offers six culinary varieties: king oyster, pink oyster, grey oyster, black poplar, shiitake and patty straw.

VELVET PIOPPINO MUSHROOM

Agrocybe aegerita is a mushroom commonly known as velvet pioppino or poplar mushroom. Small, velvety brown caps and creamy stems are prized by chefs for their unique and robust flavor. In the wild, the mushrooms grow in tufts on logs and in holes in poplar trees. They are cultivated and sold in Japan, Korea, Australia and now on Kaua’i.

Pioppino mushrooms are highly valued as a functional food for medicinal and nutritional benefits because they contain antioxidants as well as anti-inflammatory and pain-killing properties.

Season: Lawai Valley Mushrooms grow year-round. Since mushrooms prefer cooler temperatures, they peak in the spring, fall and winter.

What to look for: Select plump, dry mushrooms with a sweet, earthy smell and tightly closed caps. Mushrooms darken and become slimy with age and moisture.

Storage: Place whole, unwashed mushrooms in a paper towel. Tuck into a plastic bag, seal and place in the refrigerator. The paper towel absorbs excess moisture, so they won’t get soggy. Lawai Valley Mushrooms are very fresh and will keep for up to one week in the refrigerator.

Preparation: With a deep flavor uncommon in cultivated mushrooms, simple preparations become exquisite. Layers of complex flavors emerge when added to hearty dishes with red meat or game. Velvet pioppino is widely used in Italy for pasta con fungi and paired with a big red wine.

Health benefits: Velvet pioppino mushrooms are rich in antioxidants, which stimulate free radical scavenging activity and prevent cellular damage – the common pathway for cancer, aging and a variety of diseases. Free radicals are atoms that can be formed when oxygen interacts with certain molecules. Once formed, free radicals can start a chain reaction, where cells function poorly or die. Antioxidants are molecules that safely interact with free radicals and terminate the chain reaction before damage begins.

Lawai Valley Mushrooms can be found at: Grocery: Living Foods Market, Vim ‘n Vigor, Hoku Foods Natural Market, Papaya’s Natural Foods. Restaurants: Josselin’s Tapas Bar & Grill, Beach House, Red Salt, Merriman’s. Farmers Markets: Kaua’i Culinary Market (Wednesdays, 4-6 p.m.), Kaua’i Community Market (Saturdays 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m.) and Lawai Valley Landscaping. Retail orders can be made through Kaua’i Growers at 245-4039.

VELVET MUSHROOM BRUSCHETTA

Add a simple green salad and this recipe makes a happy meal for one person. Once the mushrooms are cooked, you can add them to risotto or soup, serve on grilled steak or enjoy as a side dish. Makes one serving.

* 1 pound velvet pioppino mushrooms

* 1 tablespoon butter

* 1 Hawaiian chili pepper, minced

* 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

* 1 tablespoon fresh thyme

* 1 tablespoon minced Mexican oregano

* 2 cloves garlic

* 2 slices of crusty bread, toasted

* salt

* freshly ground black pepper

Melt butter in a wide pan until bubbly. Add mushrooms, chili pepper and one minced clove of garlic. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Sauté for four minutes, tossing frequently, until soft. Add lemon juice and stir. Rub the other clove of garlic over toast. Fold herbs into mushrooms and serve over toast.

Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.

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