Shiitakes are often found in dried form, but fresh shiitakes are readily available year-round. To prepare, fresh shiitakes don't really need a cleaning since they grow on wood; they aren't often dirty, but inspect them anyway. The stems are too tough and woody to be eaten, so trim them off, but save them to make mushroom stock with. Dried shiitakes are easily reconstituted after a few minutes of soaking in hot water; they also need the stems trimmed off. The soaking water also makes a good addition to soups.
Shiitakes are very earthy and fragrant, with a flavor that is both sweet and savory. They make a wonderful addition to soups, pastas, casseroles, stews, stir frys, and sauces. Their tender texture has a pleasant mouthfeel.
(Image: Kathryn Hill)