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Soil and substance

Updated: Jul 27, 2021

By Nina Mukerjee Furstenau

Mushrooms bring the sun right into this frittata.

They say mushrooms capture the sun, but they also make what is tethered in the earth available to humans. To me fungi are especially alluring combined with butter and garlic, or perhaps with black-eyed peas and coriander, or in a mushroom pate I've made for dinner parties over the years. Today, I am making frittata. The garlic is sizzling in just a little oil and aroma lifts from the iron skillet. I add the sliced cremini mushrooms, the two cups of spinach which will soon look so diminished, and stir in beaten eggs, rosemary, thyme, salt, and a dash of hot sauce. This, then slides into the oven.

Fungi, it turns out, are great middlemen. They sieve minerals from our soils, they filter the sun and offer it up in tasty bites. This packs a punch for humans. Looking at other plants, it becomes apparent that many are but shadows of themselves in micro-nutrients. Plants can only grow from what is present in their home soil, after all, and that appears to be in peril.

Of note, British nutritionists say vegetable crops diminished in copper by 76%, iron by 27%, calcium by 46%, magnesium by 24%, and potassium by 16% from 1940 to 1990. They also documented reduction in iron by about 50% in beef. Dr.s Donald Davis, Melvin Epp, and Hugh Riordan in the U.S. documented changes in food composition for 43 garden crops, 1950 to 1999. Their key words were nutritive value, history, food analysis, agriculture. You hate to see those words grouped together to show decline.

The authors of Dirt: Growing a Revolution, Anne Bikle and husband, David Montgomery, say that soil health is our health. They are not the first. Hippocrates, 2500 years ago, wrote to know about the health of someone you must know their "airs, waters, and place." Eve Balfour, English ergonomist and farmer wrote The Living Soil prior to WWII. She said poor health in crops and animals equals poor health in the people who eat those things. This depletion is also how infections and epidemics spread. We have first-hand experience with this now.

If you care to shudder in fear about our prospects, but also hear how we can turn this ship around, check this link for a brief talk by Anne Bikle herself.

Some plants are storehouses of goodness, however. For something so earthy fungi are sun worshippers, sporting vitamin D in every bite. Plus there are 15 vitamins and minerals in many mushrooms, and they have antioxidant properties that help with inflammation. So, this luscious frittata is really a health food recipe when I think about it. I have tasty eggs from happy chickens with normal bone structure, some grated aged Irish cheddar, a few diced shallots, a sprinkle of rosemary and thyme, spinach and fungi. I envision pulling the sun right into my system eating these. We all need a little sunshine in our lives right now and ways to curl into all those remaining yummy minerals in the earth, too. Fungi are the keepers of those, and it turns out, better than most.

Mushroom & Spinach Frittata

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 shallots, diced (or use 3 green onions, dicing the green and white parts)

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup sliced mushrooms of your choice

2 cups spinach, coarsely chopped

8 eggs

1 tablespoon dried rosemary

1 tablespoon dried thyme

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Pinch coarse-ground black pepper

Dash Hot sauce (optional)

1/4 cup grated aged cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil and add the shallots, garlic, mushrooms, and spinach. Sauté for 2-3 minutes, then reduce the heat and cover the pan. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, rosemary, thyme, sea salt, pepper, and optional hot sauce. Grease a 9" baking dish with the remaining oil. Remove the skillet from the stove, pour the mushroom-spinach mixture into the dish, add the egg mixture, sprinkle cheese over the top if using it, place the dish into the oven and bake for 20 or until the middle is cooked through. If you are using a caste iron pan, no need to transfer the ingredients to a separate baking dish, simply add everything to the sauté and slide the pan right into the oven. When cooked, slice into wedges and enjoy!

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