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It is that time of the year again. All the garden work has turned into a bounty of tomatoes and squash. When I'm planting in the spring I start to crave this peak season, when I have time to unwind in the kitchen and make a delicious ratatouille. In the last few years, the craving for summer flavors has expanded to include lion's mane mushrooms. They have a flavor and texture reminiscent of lobster and they grow well in the summer heat. They add the perfect hint of seafood which brings layer of flavor much more complex and interesting than the few anchovies included in some ratatouille recipes.
ABOVE: What do these lion's mane look like to you? They remind me of the “Doctrine of Signatures” an ancient Greek belief that herbs that resemble various body parts can be used to treat ailments.
Lion's mane mushrooms are a healthy source of protein, vitamins, minerals and they are good for your brain. Lion's mane extracts have been shown to enhance nerve growth (Park, Lee et al. 2002; Moldavan, Gryganski et al. 2007; Mori, Obara et al. 2008) and might be useful for treating degenerative diseases of the brain like Alzheimer disease. There have also been promising results in treating anxiety and depression with lion's mane (Nagano, Shimizu et al. 2010; Shimizu, Nagano et al. 2010).
ABOVE: Recently I have fallen in love with the Indian Long Squash (pictured upper right) which tastes like a cross between an eggplant and a squash.
While zucchini, yellow squash and eggplant are traditional components of this dish, you can use any variety of summer squashes in all different combinations. Early in the summer I use zucchini and yellow squash, later patty pan and eggplant. Really what elevates a ratatouille is carefully browning each piece of squash and eggplant. This way they keep their own distinctive flavor when swimming in the juices donated by the tomatoes. The lion's mane should be sauteed as well, be careful not to overcook them they can take on a slightly bitter flavor.
LEFT: Sliced veggies RIGHT: Carefully brown each piece, including the sliced lion's mane (foreground)
You will need:
2-4 squash and/or eggplant
several tomatoes- roma or any meaty slicer
½ pound lion's mane mushrooms
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan
4 cloves garlic minced
1T finely chopped fresh parsley
1T chopped fresh basil
1t chopped fresh oregano
1 fresh bay leaf (optional)
5T olive oil
Cut thin slices of squash, eggplant and mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and saute the squash, eggplant and lion's mane mushrooms in batches until lightly browned on both sides.
Slice tomatoes and season with salt and pepper, allow slices to absorb salt and surrender some of their liquid.
Combine garlic, parsley, thyme, oregano and half the Parmesan in a small bowl. Discard excess tomato juice and sprinkle herb-garlic mixture over each tomato slice.
Spread 1T of olive oil in the bottom of a 10x10 inch or equivalent size baking dish. Place bay leaf in the center of the dish. Arrange slices of prepared vegetables in rows or concentric circles alternating between squash, tomatoes, eggplant and lion's mane. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.
Bake at 350ºF for an hour or until cheese is slightly browned. Serve atop of bread, pasta, couscous or polenta - be sure to remove bay leaf.
Moldavan, M. G., A. P. Gryganski, et al. (2007). "Neurotropic and trophic action of lion's mane mushroom Hericium erinaceus (Bull.: Fr.) pers. (Aphyllophoromycetideae) extracts on nerve cells in vitro." International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms 9(1): 15-28.
Mori, K., Y. Obara, et al. (2008). "Nerve growth factor-inducing activity of Hericium erinaceus in 1321N1 human astrocytoma cells." Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin 31(9): 1727-1732.
Nagano, M., K. Shimizu, et al. (2010). "Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks Hericium erinaceus intake." Biomedical Research-Tokyo 31(4): 231-237.
Park, Y. S., H. S. Lee, et al. (2002). "Effect of an exo-polysaccharide from the culture broth of Hericium erinaceus on enhancement of growth and differentiation of rat adrenal nerve cells." Cytotechnology 39(3): 155-162.
Shimizu, K., M. Nagano, et al. (2010). "Multifunctional biological activities of Hericium erinaceum - the investigation of the clinical effects of the fruiting body of H. erinaceum on menopause, depression, sleep quality and indefinite complaints: multifunctional biological activities of natural products (3)." Aroma Research 11(3): 276-283.