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GOOD COOKING

Mushrooms in a Dry Season

March 26, 1992|ABBY MANDEL

Intensely mushroomy, versatile and well-priced, dried imported mushrooms are a great culinary resource. There's only one problem--they can be difficult to find in the supermarket.

But the old-fashioned dried mushrooms are even more useful than their fresh counterparts since they can be used as a flavoring much like onion and garlic, adding intense mushroom flavor without any bulk.

In sauces, baked goods, omelets, vegetables, soups, pastas, casseroles and savory puddings, they lend a depth of mushroom flavor that is not possible with fresh mushrooms or cost-effective with wild mushrooms.

More than that, they work especially well in combination with fresh cultivated mushrooms, enhancing them with that characteristic mushroom woodsiness that mass-produced varieties of fungus usually lack.

It's easy enough to use these dried mushrooms. Measure out the amount needed. Remember that a small amount goes a long way-- 1/4 cup (weighing about 1/4 ounce) is a good starting amount if you're improvising. Reconstitute them in hot water to cover ( 1/2 cup to 1/4 cup mushrooms), letting them soak up the water and soften, which takes about 20 minutes. Drain the mushrooms, reserving the liquid (which is also a valuable ingredient).

The mushrooms can be chopped coarse or fine (the processor will succeed at this only when other ingredients are chopped at the same time, such as onions or cheese) or left whole, depending on their use. The soaking liquid usually has some sandy sediment; pour it through a coffee filter or a strainer lined with a paper towel.

The following recipes use these dried mushrooms to advantage. The mushroom-barley soup is rich-tasting and vibrant without any meat or beef broth, due simply to the deep mushroom flavor. The brown rice pilaf with mushrooms is just as satisfying in flavor. Both recipes use dried mushrooms and their soaking liquid with cultivated mushrooms. The French mushroom puffs use just the dried mushrooms and the liquid, giving that classic French gougere a new gutsy taste, perfect for serving with drinks or as a luncheon bread with salads.

Typically, mushroom-barley soup includes meat, at the least some beef broth or stock. Here, the dried mushrooms provide that substance; the tarragon and thyme add some verve and freshness. Since barley takes some time to cook, it pays to make this large quantity while you're at it. Just freeze the excess.

MUSHROOM-BARLEY SOUP

1/2 ounce dried imported mushrooms

1 tablespoon oil

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 large onion, minced

7 to 9 cups water

1 1/2 cups chopped carrots

1 1/2 cups chopped celery

1 (14 1/2-ounce) can peeled, chopped tomatoes, undrained

1/2 cup barley

1 1/2 teaspoons dried tarragon

1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Freshly ground pepper

8 ounces fresh mushrooms, stems trimmed and chopped, caps sliced

Soak dried mushrooms in 1 cup hot water 20 minutes. Drain mushrooms and reserve liquid. Chop mushrooms coarsely. Pour mushroom liquid through coffee filter or strainer lined with paper towel to remove sediment. Set aside.

Heat oil in 4-quart pot over medium-high heat. Add soaked mushrooms, garlic and onion. Cook until onion is tender, about 4 minutes. Add mushroom liquid, 7 cups water, carrots, celery, undrained tomatoes, barley, tarragon, thyme, salt and pepper to taste. Bring to boil.

Simmer, covered, 35 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add mushrooms and water as necessary. Cook until barley is tender, about 15 minutes more. Adjust seasonings to taste. (Can be made 3 days ahead and refrigerated or frozen up to 3 months.) Reheat, adding water and seasonings as necessary. Serve hot. Makes 10 servings.

Each serving contains about:

121 calories; 449 mg sodium; 0 mg cholesterol; 2 grams fat; 25 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 2.78 grams fiber; 15% calories from fat.

Here, the classic French gougeres are enriched with dried mushrooms and minced green onions. They have a spongy center and can be served plain, as they are in France, or filled with seafood or a mushroom duxelles to accompany cocktails. When frozen properly (see note), they taste fresh when reheated in the oven.

FRENCH MUSHROOM PUFFS

1/4 ounce dried imported mushrooms

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 cup flour

4 large eggs

1 tablespoon milk

2 small green onions, minced

4 ounces Swiss cheese, shredded

1 large egg, beaten with 1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Soak dried mushrooms in 1/2 cup hot water 20 minutes. Drain mushrooms and squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Reserve liquid and pour through coffee filter or strainer lined with paper towel to remove sediment. Add enough water to make 2/3 cup. Chop mushrooms coarsely.

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