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Puffballs

Calvatia, Calbovista, Lycoperdon

Puffballs come in many sizes, some as small as a marble and some as large as a basketball. The name "puffball" is used here to refer to three genera of fungi, Calvatia, Calbovista, and Lycoperdon. Their surfaces may be smooth, covered with small or large warts, or ornamented with spikes. Puffballs are usually white and round, and are attached to the ground with little or no apparent stem.

Puffball -- Click for larger image

Puffballs seem to prefer disturbed earth, and enjoy surprising the forager, for they are seldom the prey being sought. The largest ones are members of the genus Calvatia. It is estimated that the average mature specimen of C. gigantea contains 7 trillion spores stored inside the puffball!

Most puffballs are safe to eat, although rare reactions have been reported. Assuming you have obtained reliable puffballs, you should sitll follow these steps before eating them:

  1. They must be all-white inside. Any shade of yellow or purple makes them inedible or upsetting.
  2. When cut, they must have a uniform internal consistency. The external appearance of immature Amanita species is similar to puffballs. However, the cap and gills of these unexpanded mushrooms become apparent when the egg-shaped fungi are cut in half. The Amanita genus includes the most poisonous species of mushrooms.

Cleaning

Clean them as necessary and dry on paper towels. Some people develop intestinal irritation from the outer covering, so peel this layer with a knife.

Cooking

Some people refer to puffballs as "breakfast mushrooms" because they blend so well with eggs. But they also serve beautifully as side dishes with dinner entrees. A thick slab of puffball develops a lovely golden color when browned in butter. They are often cut into cubes for cooking.

Dip slices in a batter of egg and milk and cover with bread crumbs seasoned with salt and pepper. SautÚ in butter and serve with a piquant sauce as the main course for a vegetarian dinner.

Thinly sliced and pan-seared large Calvatias can be used as crêpes. Rolled around crab meat, tuna, or other fillings, and held in place with a toothpick, they can be baked for your next party.

Preserving

Chop and sautÚ them before freezing. The larger species may be sliced and slightly fried, then frozen for later use as crêpes. Separate each portion with waxed paper. Dehydrated puffballs can be powdered for flavoring bland foods.


Parmesan Puffballs

Serves 4 as an appetizer

Hope Miller is the coauthor of the book Mushrooms in Color . This is one of her favorite recipes.

  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup flour
  • About 1 pound puffballs, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten with 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 tablespoons butter or more if needed
  • 2 tablespoons oil or more if needed

Mix the salt with the flour. Dip the mushroom slices in the flour, then in the egg, and last, in the cheese. Melt the butter and oil in a sautÚ pan or skillet and sautÚ the mushrooms slowly until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve at once.

--Hope Miller

ALTERNATE MUSHROOMS: Boletes, Oyster mushroom


Chicken Baked with Puffballs

Serves 4 as a main course

  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon dried tarragon
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • One 2-1/2 to 3-pound chicken, cut into serving pieces
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 whole garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3 tablespoons butter or more
  • About 1 pound puffballs, peeled and cut into thick slices

Mix the flour, tarragon, salt, and pepper in a paper bag. Shake the chicken pieces in the bag one at a time.

In a sautÚ pan or skillet, sautÚ the chicken in the oil until brown. Remove the chicken pieces from the pan and arrange them in a baking dish. Add the wine to the sautÚ pan and let it boil for 2 or 3 minutes. Pour the wine over the chicken. Add the garlic cloves to the dish, cover, and bake for 20 minutes in a preheated 350║ oven.

While the chicken bakes in the oven, add the butter to the same pan and sautÚ the puffballs. Toss and gently coat the mushrooms in butter for 7 to 10 minutes or until they turn brown. Add more butter if necessary.

Remove the chicken from the oven and skim off the fat. Add the mushrooms. Cover and continue to bake for 15 to 20 minutes longer.

--Louise Freedman

ALTERNATE MUSHROOMS: Common Store Mushroom, Oyster Mushroom


Puffballs with Scallops and Broccoli

Serves 4 as a main course

Any shellfish or white-fleshed fish may be used in this dish. Serve over hot rice.

  • One 4-inch puffball
  • 1 cup mild vegetable oil
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 pound broccoli
  • 3/4 pound scallops
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Peel the puffball and cut it into large pieces. In a sautÚ pan or skillet, heat the oil to almost smoking (400║). Dip the puffballs a handful at a time for 15 seconds in a large amount of water with a pinch of salt added. Shake the water off the puffballs and toss them into the hot oil. Fry on all sides until golden brown. Remove the puffballs and drain on paper towels.

In a large saucepan, mix the chicken broth and wine. Reduce the liquid to half the volume by boiling rapidly. Remove and set aside.

Pour out all but 1 teaspoon of the oil from the pan used to fry the puffballs. Chop the broccoli into bite-sized pieces and stir-fry in the pan for 2 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Dust the scallops with the flour. In a sautÚ pan or skillet, sautÚ the scallops in the butter and lemon juice until lightly browned. Add the broth and wine mixture and simmer for 3 minutes. Add the cream and simmer to thicken. Add the puffballs and the broccoli. Cook 1 minute more to warm the dish. Season to taste and serve immediately.

--Shea Moss, from If You Can't Eat Your Mushroom Take It Dancing

ALTERNATE MUSHROOMS: Common Store Mushroom, Oyster Mushroom