Question: There's a charming restaurant called the Ivy Inn on Old Ivy Road in Charlottesville, Va. I would like their recipe for Wild Mushroom Salad. It's excellent.

- June Wiley, Harrisburg, Pa.Answer: A fungus that has a stalk and an umbrella-shaped cap is commonly called a mushroom, if it is an edible variety, and a toadstool, if it is poisonous. These days, "store" mushrooms are taking a back seat to exotic gourmet mushrooms such as shiitake, portobello, oyster, crimini, wood ear, hen of the woods (maitaki) and morels. Today, let's talk shiitake.

Dried shiitake (she-TAH-kee) - described by the French as a fragrant mushroom - have a distinct texture and smoky oak flavor, and reconstituted shiitake have the ability to absorb a cooking sauce and dramatically enhance the flavor of a recipe. In Asian countries the shiitake is known as the "elixir of life" because it is thought to lower cholesterol, prevent hardening of the arteries and prevent high blood pressure. Current studies promote the shiitake as possessing anti-viral and anti-cancer properties. If these reasons don't inveigle you to nibble a shiitake, I might add that they enhance longevity and are considered to be an aphrodisiac.

Mushrooms for the Ivy Inn's Wild Mushroom Salad are best bought at the supermarket. The odds are not on your side if you decide to hunt and pick mushrooms for the table unless you are an informed and experienced hunter. A mistake can be disastrous, so as the saying goes, "When in doubt, throw it out!" Mushrooms are fragile, so store the expensive shiitake "shrooms" in paper or cloth, which breathes - and never in a plastic, airtight container in the refrigerator.

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RECIPE

MUSHROOM SALAD WITH WALNUT-ENCRUSTED CHEVRE

4 slices quality smoked bacon

2 roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced fine

2 green onions, thinly sliced

3 ounces chevre, or goat cheese

1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts

4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (divided use)

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/4 teaspoon minced fresh garlic

1/4 teaspoon minced shallots

1/8 teaspoon salt (more to taste)

1/8 teaspoon pepper (more to taste)

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (divided use, as

needed to lightly coat pan)

1/3 cup shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, sliced 1/8-inch thick

1/3 cup portobello mushrooms, stems removed, sliced 1/8-inch thick

1/3 cup oyster mushrooms, stems removed, sliced 1/8-inch thick

1 cup salad greens

Slice bacon strips crosswise, 1/8-inch thick. Place in skillet and render slowly over low-medium heat, until thoroughly cooked and crisp. Set aside. Peel, seed and dice tomatoes in 1/4-inch bits. Set aside. Wash green onions, remove root ends, and slice 1/16-inch thick. Set aside. Divide goat cheese into 4 equal parts. Roll gently into balls, and press into the walnuts to lightly coat (save any remaining walnuts). Shape into round, flat-sided medallions about 1/2-inch thick. Set aside.

Prepare vinaigrette: Mix 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, garlic, shallots, salt and pepper in a small mixing bowl. Slowly drizzle in 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, while whisking continuously, so as to form an emulsion. Set aside.

Turn on broiler to preheat. Place remaining olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Carefully place all the mushrooms in the pan, tilting the pan away from you so as not to splash hot oil on yourself. Let mushrooms cook on one side before stirring them (moving the mushrooms too soon or too often will cause them to steam themselves in the pan), and then stir only once or twice, cooking for about 2 to 3 minutes. Place goat cheese on a baking sheet and put under broiler until lightly toasted and warm.

Add tomatoes, bacon, green onions and any remaining walnuts to mushrooms and heat through. Deglaze with remaining balsamic vinegar, stir, and remove pan from heat. Set aside. Lightly toss salad greens in a salad bowl with vinaigrette and divide evenly among four plates. Spoon mushroom mixture on top of greens, and place the goat cheese on top of the mushrooms. Serve immediately. Serves 4.