Although “wild” mushrooms are now cultivated all year round, autumn is still their peak season. Shiitake, portabella and cremini, as well as small white button mushrooms, are successfully farmed in the kind of controlled environment that yields excellent results.

However, if you’re lucky enough to get hold of some truly wild mushrooms – earthy, nutty hen of the woods is one variety that often appears under oak trees in Maine – savor them, but only if they come from a completely reliable source!

Chicken Braised with Tomatoes, Mushrooms and Rosemary

This is a rendition of chicken cacciatore, or hunter-style chicken, a winning dish that never fails to please. I like it served over creamy polenta, with steamed broccoli rabe or broccolini on the side.

Serves 4

1½ pounds boneless chicken thighs

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary or 1½ teaspoon dried

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons olive oil

8 ounces shiitake or other mushrooms, wild or domestic, sliced

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 (16-ounce) can diced plum tomatoes with their juice

1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce

¾ cup dry white or red wine

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Sprinkle chicken with half the rosemary and season well with salt and pepper.

Heat oil in a large skillet with lid or a Dutch oven. Cook chicken over medium heat until browned on both sides, about 6 minutes. Push chicken to one side and add the mushrooms and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until mushrooms are wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, wine and remaining rosemary and cook, covered, over medium-low heat until chicken is tender, about 15 minutes. Uncover and cook over medium-high heat until juices are slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and season with additional salt and pepper if necessary.

Cheese Grits with Shiitake Gravy

Under-appreciated and underused as a starch here in the Northeast, grits deserve a more prominent place on the Maine table. I love using grits – particularly cheese grits – as a base for meatless main course toppings, such as this savory Madeira-spiked mushroom “gravy.” Add a tomato, arugula and sweet onion salad for a fabulous supper.

Serves 4

CHEESE GRITS:

1 teaspoon salt

1¼ cups quick-cooking (not instant) grits

2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Freshly ground black pepper

SHIITAKE GRAVY:

3 tablespoons butter

1¼ pounds fresh wild mushrooms or a mix of wild and cultivated, trimmed and sliced

1/3 cup finely chopped shallots

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

4 teaspoons all-purpose flour

¼ cup Madeira or dry sherry

1½ cups chicken or vegetable broth

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon or 1 teaspoon dried

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the grits, bring 4 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add salt and slowly stir in grits. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cheese. Season with pepper to taste. (Can be made an hour or 2 ahead and reheated in the microwave.)

Meanwhile, to make the shiitake gravy, heat the butter in a large skillet. Add mushrooms, shallots and garlic and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms soften, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle on flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in Madeira and cook over high heat until most of the wine evaporates, about 2 minutes. Stir in broth, Worcestershire and tarragon and simmer over medium heat until gravy is somewhat reduced and thickened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (Can be made an hour or 2 ahead. Reheat gently.)

To serve, spoon grits onto plates and spoon gravy over grits.

Brooke Dojny can be contacted via Facebook at:

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