There’s a fungus among us~



“Hey, you sure are a fun-guy,” my sixth-grade science teacher would say, trying to get us all to laugh at the lame twist of pronunciation on the word “fungi.”

 “I think there is a fungus “among-gus,” he’d continue, as the brown-nosers in the front row would giggle and titter, while the rest of us in class would moan in pain at the lameness of his humor.  

Nevertheless, learning about mushrooms was a highly anticipated day at my junior high. It was one of the few times that our science teacher—with his wavy, groovy hair, slightly higher than mid-thigh shorts, tight polo shirt, puka beads, and a mid-1970s Tom Sellek moustache—singled out the sixth grade class as special. Mushroom day was when he brought in the giant Puffball Mushroom that he has picked from some secret location in a nearby wood, to slice, batter, fry, and serve to each of his sixth-grade science classes. I wonder if a teacher would still be allowed to bring in a wild mushroom and serve it to his class? Somehow I think not.

My little sister ate some small, wild mushrooms one afternoon with the neighbor boy. My mom rushed them both to the hospital to have their stomachs pumped after they had consumed a large quantity of a charcoal-like substance. Because of her unrelated incident, the Puffball mushroom always gave me pause, but it never stopped me. Who could turn down anything from Tom Selleck?!

I am in Minnesota working at the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, Minnesota AND it happens to be morel mushroom season at the moment. Drive around town and you will see signs in food market windows proudly and enthusiastically announcing: “We have Morels!” “The Morels are In!” “It’s Morel Time!” Families have been taking Saturday morning excursions into the wooded bluffs of the Mississippi River to harvest these sponge-like spires. Morels are IT, at the moment.

I love mushrooms. I always have—long before my Tom Selleck of a science teacher fried my first puffball. Growing up they were always on the pizza my family ordered or my mom would make her “special” green beans, which weren’t very special at all now that I think about it—drained, canned mushrooms were added to canned green beans in a pan with a little salt and pepper, and maybe a pat of margarine. But at the time, they were very special green beans indeed—all because of the mushrooms.

In Italy, the Porcini mushroom is the “fun-guy” “among-gus.” Large and toadstool-shaped, they are the mushrooms that I imagine always having a woodland sprite cleverly perched upon its cap deep in the Italian woods. Moth, Cobweb, Mustardseed, and Peaseblossom could easily have been perched on the Porcini mushrooms Shakespeare might have found had he been in the Italian woods while writing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Nonna made several mushroom dishes while I was with the family in Viterbo. Mushroom-filled crespelli (crepes), a bruschetta of mixed mushrooms, and a penne pasta with mushrooms and cream—the recipe for it is in my book Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family.

I am excited to be in Winona for the morels in May and I hope to be in Viterbo for the porcini in September. Nonna’s penne recipe is going to have a Winona-twist on it later this week when I make the dish with fresh morels instead of fresh porcini. An experiment is always good. I think my science teacher would approve.

I do like my funghi!



**The first photo: fresh morel mushrooms at a local market in Winona, Mn.

** Photo two: Porcini mushrooms outside a market in Viterbo, Italy.


About the Author

Mark LeslieMark Leslie, seen cooking on NBC’s "The Today Show" and Hallmark Channel's "Home & Family," loves to cook for anyone with an appetite, vacations in Italy every year, and lives to eat his way through every plate of pasta and cone of gelato placed before him. His first book, “Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family,” tells of his life in Italy while cooking with an Italian grandmother. He shares his food experiences on his blog at and has taught cooking classes in California, Georgia, Minnesota, Texas, and across Alabama. While judging for high school culinary events, he was chosen by the US Department of Education to judge for their "National Education Startup Challenge." Mark can be regularly seen cooking on NBC-affiliate, WSFA-TV 12's "Alabama Live! each Friday, bringing easy, locally sourced recipes to central Alabama. His iTunes app “Beyond the Pasta” features helpful videos and more of Nonna’s family-style recipes that she shared with him, plus, upon its release, it was named “New & Noteworthy” by Apple. DaVinci Wines chose Mark as their "2012 Storyteller" in Language Arts—where they sent him to Vinci, Italy, to write about wine, food and life. Mark, his home and book have been featured in such national publications and blogs as House Beautiful, Paula Deen, Food Republic, The Kitchn, Apartment Therapy, Field & Stream, and The Daily Meal. A Chicago-area native and “Yankee” by birth, Mark has lived in Alabama for over 24 years, and celebrates the fact that he started life eating farina, progressed to grits, and finally arrived at polenta. Buonissimo!View all posts by Mark Leslie →

"Beyond the Pasta" is owned and operated by Mark Leslie. Unless otherwise specified all content, writing, recipes and photography is original and held in copyright through the Library of Congress. It may not be used without the express written consent of Mark Leslie.