There is always a freshness about springtime. New life is sprouting up and new possibilities arise as the warmer weather moves in. Thoughts of gardening and delicious fresh produce in the months to come bring excitement.

Speaking of fresh produce, did you know Pennsylvania is the largest producer of mushrooms? Mushrooms are not something we have to wait to get excited about this time of year because mushrooms are grown in Pennsylvania year-round. That means that they are always in season.

There are many different varieties of mushrooms. Several popular varieties include crimini, oyster, portabella, shiitake and white button. Each variety has its own unique texture, taste and nutrient content.

You may have seen crimini mushrooms labeled as “baby bellas.” They are very similar to white button mushrooms, but have a darker brown cap and an earthier flavor. This characteristic makes them a great option to blend with beef, pork or any vegetable dish. Criminis also have a firmer texture that makes them a great addition to soups and stews.

Oyster mushrooms can come in different colors like gray, pink, yellow or blue. They have a very delicate flavor. They can briefly be sautéed with butter and onions to be used as a topper on dishes like pasta. If you are preparing a dish with a longer cooking time, add the mushrooms toward the end of cooking.

Portabella mushrooms have brown caps and typically are larger. They are a bigger version of crimini mushrooms. Portabella mushrooms have a meat-like texture and flavor making them a great substitute for things like burgers. Portabella mushrooms can be broiled, roasted or grilled.

Shiitake mushrooms are known for their curved stems. These stems should be removed before cooking, but don’t throw them away. You can use the stems for additional flavor in soups and stocks. Shiitake mushrooms’ meaty texture is a great addition to stir-fries, entrees, vegetables, soups and pastas.

The most popular variety of mushrooms is white button. They represent the largest amount of mushrooms consumed in the U.S. White button mushrooms have a mild flavor and they blend well with other ingredients. You can sauté them and add them to pasta, pizza or your weekend omelet. You can even slice them and add them raw to a salad.

As you can see, there are many ways to eat mushrooms and they are a healthy addition to your plate. Mushrooms are low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol-free and very low in sodium. They provide us with vitamins, minerals and fiber. Specific varieties will vary in which vitamins and minerals they contain.

The USDA Dietary Guidelines breaks down recommended daily vegetable intake into vegetable subgroups. These subgroups include dark-green vegetables, red and orange vegetables, legumes (beans and peas), starchy vegetables, and other vegetables. Mushrooms would fall into the “other” category of vegetables.

When choosing any variety of mushrooms, make sure the mushrooms are firm with a fresh appearance and dry surface. You can store the mushrooms in their original package or in a paper bag for up to seven days. When cleaning mushrooms, brush off any debris from the mushrooms or rinse them briefly under running water and pat dry with a paper towel.

Mushrooms are one of those love it or hate it foods. However, as you can see, there are many different varieties each with unique flavors and textures. If you try one variety and don’t like it, try a different kind. If you didn’t like mushrooms cooked a certain way, try them cooked another way. The good news is that in Pennsylvania, we have lots of local options to explore when it comes to mushrooms.

Kale and Basil Pesto Zoodles with Mushrooms

2 cups chopped kale leaves

1/4 cup lightly packed basil leaves

8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves chopped

4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons pine nuts

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

8 ounces white button mushrooms, chopped

3 medium zucchinis (about 1-1/2 pounds) cut into “zoodles” (use a spiralizer appliance or, by hand, use a box grater or a vegetable peeler to make noodle-sized strips of zucchini)

Fine sea salt, to taste

Place the kale, basil and 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a small food processor or the cup of a single serving blender. Pulse in 10-second intervals until all ingredients are combined and the kale is finely chopped.

Add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil, the garlic, 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese, pine nuts and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Pulse in 10-second intervals until all ingredients are finely chopped and transformed into a thick dressing.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes, just until they begin to soften. Add the “zoodles,” or zucchini cut into “noodles,” and cook 2 to 3 minutes more, just until they begin to become tender.

Pour in the pesto (the blended mixture) and cook for 1 more minute to heat all ingredients. Garnish with the remaining 2 tablespoons of Parmesan and season with any additional salt to taste before serving.

Yields 3-4 servings.

Recipe source: Mushroom Council

Amber E. Denmon is a Penn State Extension educator working with food safety and quality for families in Sullivan County.