BY TERESA TAYLOR

Few if any foods express that savory “umami” flavor better than mushrooms.

It took a century, but umami is recognized in the Western world as the fifth basic human taste along with sweet, sour, salty and bitter.

A Japanese scientist first identified the taste in 1908 from seaweed (“umami” means delicious in Japanese).

In 2001, American scientists proved that certain cells on the tongue sense “umami” through the presence of glutamates, which are common in protein-rich foods such as meats and cheeses. Mushrooms are loaded with glutamates, which explains why they taste so “meaty.”

I think mushrooms are a good transitional food between seasons, whether from summer to fall or winter to spring.

They manage to be hearty and satisfying but not too heavy at the same time.

A West Ashley reader asked for recipes in which mushrooom take center stage. Here goes:

“This soup is delicious,” writes Lynne Gannett of Mount Pleasant. It comes from “Foods of the World: The Cooking of Provincial France” (Time Life Books).

Cream of Mushroom Soup

Ingredients

11/2 pounds fresh mushrooms

7 tablespoons butter

2 finely chopped shallots or scallions

6 tablespoons flour

6 cups chicken stock (fresh or canned)

2 egg yolks

3/4 cup heavy cream

Salt

White pepper

Chopped green scallion or parsley stems, for garnish

Directions

Clean and coarsely chop the mushrooms. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter and cook the mushrooms and shallots for 2 minutes. Set them aside. In a heavy skillet, melt remaining 5 tablespoons of butter, remove from heat and stir in flour.

Stir constantly and cook roux to a light brown. Remove from heat and pour in chicken stock. Return to heat and bring to a boil, then add chopped mushrooms and shallots. Simmer for 15 minutes. Puree the soup.

With a wire whisk, blend the egg yolks and the cream together in a bowl. Whisk in the hot pureed soup, 2 tablespoons at a time, until 1/2 cup has been added.

Then reverse the process and slowly whisk the now-warm egg yolk and cream mixture into the soup.

Bring to a boil for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and white pepper. Garnish with chopped scallions or parsley stems.

Marie-Louise Ramsdale of Sullivan’s Island says this recipe from Cooking Light magazine is “amazingly good” albeit time-consuming.

Mushroom Lasagna

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 cup boiling water

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided use

11/4 cups chopped shallots (about 4)

1 (8-ounce) package presliced cremini mushrooms

1 (4-ounce) package presliced exotic mushroom blend

1 teaspoon salt, divided use

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided use

11/2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

6 garlic cloves, minced and divided use

1/2 cup white wine

1/3 cup (3 ounces) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, divided use

3 cups 2 percent reduced-fat milk, divided use

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Cooking spray

9 no-boil lasagna noodles

1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine 1 cup boiling water and porcini. Cover and let stand 30 minutes; strain mixture through a cheesecloth-lined sieve over a bowl, reserving liquid and mushrooms.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add shallots to pan; saute 3 minutes. Add cremini and exotic mushrooms, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; saute 6 minutes or until mushrooms are browned.

Add thyme and half of the garlic; saute 1 minute. Stir in wine; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute or until liquid almost evaporates, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Remove from heat; stir in cream cheese and 1 tablespoon chives. Add reserved porcini mushrooms.

Heat a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add remaining garlic to pan; saute 30 seconds. Add the reserved porcini liquid, 23/4 cups milk, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper; bring to a boil. Combine remaining 1/4 cup milk and flour in a small bowl; stir with a whisk. Add flour mixture to milk mixture, and simmer 2 minutes or until slightly thick, stirring constantly with a whisk.

Spoon 1/2 cup sauce into an 11x7-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray, and top with 3 noodles. Spread half of mushroom mixture over noodles. Repeat layers, ending with remaining sauce. Sprinkle cheese over top. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until golden. Top with remaining 1 tablespoon chopped chives.

Sharon Cook of Charleston uses mushrooms to stretch her meat budget.

“With the high price of Kobe and Angus beef, I developed a much less pricey alternative that tastes, or so my family says, even better. I take the cheapest, leanest 1 pound of ground beef and mix in 1/2 pound of roughly chopped portabella mushrooms, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon steak seasoning along with 1 teaspoon chipotle pepper; mix just until blended and then form into meatballs, patties, etc. It turned out juicy, flavorful and economical! These quantities make about 12 slider-sized burgers or 24-plus walnut-sized meatballs.”

Stone works

Evelyn Misko got a pizza stone for Christmas. She has used it for making pizzas but wanted other ideas from readers.

Marilyn Kaple of Summerville writes, “The Pampered Chef used to have quite a few recipe booklets with so many ideas. I particularly like ‘Doris Christopher’s Stoneware Sensations’ c. 1997. Here is one of my favorites:”

Philly Beef-Stuffed Sandwich

Ingredients

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 cloves garlic, pressed

1 cup chopped green bell pepper

3/4 cup chopped onion

1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves, divided use

2 packages (10-ounces each) refrigerated pizza crust

8 ounces thinly sliced deli roast beef

8 ounces thinly sliced American or swiss cheese

1 egg white, slightly beaten

1 tablespoon water

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat oil in a 10-inch frying pan; add garlic, bell pepper, onion and 1/2 teaspoon of the oregano.

Cook and stir 3 to 4 minutes until vegetables are crisp-tender. Remove pan from heat.

Unroll pizza dough onto lightly floured surface.

Roll out crust to 9x12-inch rectangle. Cover with half the beef, cheese and vegetable mixture to within 1/2 inch of edges.

Starting at longest side of rectangle, roll up dough, jelly-roll fashion. Press seam to seal.

Repeat the same process with the second crust.

Place the rolls, bent into semicircles, onto the baking stone. Join ends together to form one complete ring; press to seal.

Combine egg and water and brush on surface of the dough. Sprinkle with remaining oregano.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting ring into slices to serve.

Reggie Gardner of Goose Creek mentioned Pampered Chef as a source of free recipes as well.

The Chicken Broccoli Braid is a favorite, but the recipe has ingredients and tools specific to the Pampered Chef brand. If you are interested, the recipe can be found at www.pamperedchef.com/recipe.

Sharon Cook also has a few tips to share: “I have a pizza stone and I do use it, but mostly for pizza. However, it is also useful for making quesadillas, reheating fried chicken so that it is crispy, and I bake pies in pie pans on the stone to ensure that the bottom crust of the pie is crispy. It is also useful for baking free-form bread like Nan bread, etc.

“One of the best nonpizza uses for a pizza stone is for cold foods. Chill the stone in the fridge and then it makes the ideal server for things like sushi, shrimp cocktail, cold hors d’oeuvres, etc.”

To make a request or contribute a recipe, email food@postandcourier.com or call Food and Features Editor Teresa Taylor at 937-4886.