One of my favorite things about West Virginia is finding wild mushrooms. I modified the ingredients for this dish around the holidays when Tom and I grew sick of eating turkey and ham. This recipe could use any mushroom but as I have learned more about wild mushrooms it is wonderful for the meaty and almost fibrous Hen of the woods.
Hen of the Woods can range from almost white to almost totally grey.It ranges in size from about a pound to some here in West Virginia that have come in at 80 pounds. This mushroom a choice edible. The Hen of the Woods should not turn blue/black when bruised and should not have an unpleasant odor. The small mushroom on the left of this photo is the one that we took in the house to eat as it was a gift from friends. Our little mushroom hit the scale at about 5 1/2 pounds. Just as a size reference it took up the entire dish strainer when I cleaned it. The center mushroom was about 12 pounds and about the size of my kitchen sink.
Warning… edible mushrooms are easy to mix up with poisonous ones learn them before you eat.
As with any of my mushroom posts I encourage everyone who wants to start looking for mushrooms to buy several mushroom identification books and find other hunters in your area to help with identification. Some wild mushrooms are very poisonous and can kill a grown human in a few hours. Remember to only try one new mushroom at a time.That way if there is a reaction to the fungus, you know what type of mushroom it is making you ill. Cook all wild mushroom before eating this also reduces allergic reactions to the fungus. Always keep a sample of the mushroom in case you have misidentified the mushroom and need medical attention. Get an outside person to look over your findings…. can’t hurt to have a second pair of eye looking at what you want to eat.
I cleaned this large mushroom in a large sink full of warm water. The water needs to cover the entire mushroom and it should ideally soak for about 25 to 30 minutes. This allows the small bugs, slugs, dirt, leaves or any other unwanted matter time to drown or soften and float to the bottom of the sink. Remove the mushroom from water, drain and rinse again with tap water. Place the clump of wet mushroom in dish strainer to drain. The mushroom can now be canned, frozen, or cooked. I cut this big guy up and froze about 3/4 of it for the winter.
Hen of the woods is one of the few mushrooms that freeze extremely well and does not lose its firm texture when thawed. So this one is a wonderful winter cooking staple. After cutting up the large mushroom I patted the branches dry and placed about 2 pounds per bag. Using about two cups of frozen branches for the following recipe.
Hen of the Woods Penne Pasta
serves 5 to 6 baked at 350 degrees
- quart Italian tomato sauce or marinara sauce
- 1 pound penne pasta
- 1 pound Italian Sausage ( we use sweet or mild)
- 1 green sweet bell pepper
- 1 med yellow onion
- 2 cups Hen of the Woods thawed mushrooms
- 2 cloves garlic crushed
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
- 2 cups shredded cheese Mozzarella, Cheddar, or blended cheese
Begin with a 2 quart casserole coated with cooking spray or butter the casserole dish set a side. Boil salted water in a large pot and cook 1 lb noodles until about 3/4 the way soft. Drain noodles and set a side. They will continue to cook when baked with other ingredients in oven.
In a large skillet break up and brown 1 lb of sweet Italian sausage. When browned all the way through remove from pan and set a side. To skillet oils add garlic and thawed mushroom and saute until mushrooms begin to brown at the edges.
Then add in onions, peppers, saute until onions begin to turn translucent and peppers begin to soften , under cook the vegetables so they remain some what crunchy they will continue to cook in the oven when baked.
Add cooked sausage to casserole dish followed by cooked mushrooms and vegetables. Mix together and add one quart of pasta sauce, 1 pound of cooked penna pasta.
Add into mixture 1 cup Parmesan cheese and mix well. Cleaning the rim of dish after mixing to prevent burning while in oven. Top mixture with shredded cheese and bake covered at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.
The topping will appear melted and the filling will appear bubbly when ready to eat. We serve this will garlic bread and a romaine lettuces salad. Making a nice meal that helps incorporate the woodiness of the wild mushroom without making it distracting in a main dish. This is one of my husbands favorite dishes as long as I leave the pepper, onion and mushrooms in large slightly crunchy pieces.
Just for fun here is a photo of an over grown Hen of the woods that my husband and a friend found while working along a road side for the DOT in 2010.This one was almost to big to eat at 80 pounds and really tough.
Photo used with permission from Mark Metzgar 2013.