Portobellos, Inside-Out

mushrooms 2.23.13As I was heading into my third week of mushrooms, I figured portobellos were a good way to go, but I didn’t want to do them as a “burger,” though they’re very tasty that way. And I didn’t want to stuff them, though they’re very tasty that way, too.

But I had the thought that if I could slice them in two horizontally, I might be able to fill the cavity of the one side, and cover it with the curved-side down of the other side, so that they were like sandwiches, flat on both sides. And then I might coat them in flour, dip them in egg, and then dredge in seasoned breadcrumbs. And if I browned them in a pan, I might have another tasty way to enjoy portobellos.

So that is what I did, and now I definitely do have another way to enjoy them.

Because I had a couple small sweet potatoes, I decided to peel them, cut them into fries and roast in a 400° oven while I prepared my inside-out portobello mushrooms. A nice side.

I sliced the top from each of four portobellos, about a third of the way in, so as not to cut into the cavity and stem part of the bottom.

In two of the mushroom bottoms, I put in a few strips of roasted red peppers and some chopped parsley, and layered smoked gouda on that. In the other two, I spooned in a little pesto and chopped parsley, and again added smoked gouda. Then I turned the curved side of the caps down to cover them so that the flat part of the mushrooms were now the outside.

I set up three bowls: one with flour; one with two eggs, beaten; one with plain breadcrumbs, seasoned with salt and pepper.

I heated canola oil in a pan over medium heat, added a generous amount of oil, not deep, but enough to brown the four mushroom sandwiches on each side.

I dipped each sandwich in the flour, then in the egg, then in the breadcrumbs. This wasn’t neat. There was no elegant wet-hand, dry-hand technique. I needed both hands to hold them together and to get each coating into the curving sides. But I only had four, so a short-lived mess.

I put them in the pan to brown on one side, then the other. Because I wanted the mushrooms tender, and also to allow the sides to brown, too, when I took the sweet potatoes out of the oven, I put the four mushroom sandwiches on the pan, and put them in the oven for 10-15 minutes.

I let them rest a few minutes, then sliced. They sliced beautifully, and the smoked gouda ended up being a nice choice, not just for its slightly buttery, nutty flavor, but also because it warms but doesn’t melt all over. And then the mix of fried breadcrumbs with tender mushroom was wonderful.

My husband preferred the one with pesto. I liked them both. But that’s the beauty of something like this. You can use different odds and ends you have around for an interesting filling. I thought an olive tapenade would be great the next time, or chopped artichoke and spinach. Maybe a blue cheese, maybe a swiss or havarti. Maybe…

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Simple Luxury

mushroom truffle2 2.16.13Two years ago, in an agriturismo in Italy owned by friends, I had the unexpected pleasure of discovering truffle shavings casually tossed into a pasta dish that was served as part of an abundant family dinner.

An agriturismo is a farm house-style vacation that offers food produced by the owners themselves on their property, or procured locally. The truffles were a local product, and the owners, friends of my mother, generously shared them with us.

So delicious.

And so distant from the idea of truffles as a luxury associated with fine restaurants and thick wallets. Because the truffle does command a heady price, often hundreds of dollars per pound, a reflection of the investment of time it takes to cultivate them and then to forage for them.

Looking nothing like its stemmed relatives, this lumpy, walnut-sized fungus is sniffed out from underground and from under fallen and decaying leaves by trained pigs and dogs. And from this humble, very earthy environment, it releases an aroma when its flavor is at full maturity, which is the scent by which it is discovered. And it is this lush scent, and the taste that echoes it, that draws its admirers.

And it is this lush scent and taste that infuses the bottles of truffle oil that can be found on grocery store and specialty market shelves, alongside oils like avocado and walnut.

I have looked at the truffle oils on those shelves in the past, and not picked one up, but the other day I did. Nothing sounded better at that moment than to drizzle some over a simple pasta dish, like I’d had in Italy.

And that’s what I did. Hardly a recipe. I cooked three-quarters of a pound of whole wheat penne rigate that I had. During the 11 minutes that those cooked, I roasted broccoli florets that I had sliced into 1/4″ thick slices, tossed with oil, salt and pepper on a baking sheet, and placed in a 350° oven, turning them once while they cooked.mushroom truffle4 2.16.13

After draining the pasta, I sautéed 5 cloves of minced garlic in a pan I’d generously coated with extra virgin olive oil, since it would coat the pasta, too. I tossed in the pasta, turning it in the oil, added a good handful of chopped parsley, and seasoned with salt and pepper.

When all heated through, I spooned it onto a serving platter, stirring in a 1/4 cup or so of grated cheese, and tucked the roasted broccoli alongside.

And then I opened my little, four-tablespoon-sized bottle of truffle oil. The smell was wonderful. I only drizzled a tablespoon, maybe a tablespoon and a half, over the pasta. That’s all it needed.

I ate it slowly and happily on a February night, as I remembered the August in Italy that inspired it.

Mushrooms…Capped

Did the beautiful photo in February’s Food & Wine trigger the idea, or did the photo resonate with me because I’d been thinking about making something similar already? And did thinking about it remind me of the restaurant that had served it as a vegetarian option several years ago, or had something reminded me of that evening, and the idea come from that?

It doesn’t matter, of course. That’s how ideas are. Yet, as seemingly inevitable as it was, with all the planets aligning, so to speak, I resisted even as I offered myself no alternative.

It was always going to be mushroom potpies.mushrooms1 2.9.13

Why the resistance? I’m not sure. Maybe I was hesitating because I was going to serve mushrooms as a main course, and not just an ingredient in the main course. And would my book-group friends, who would be over that evening, enjoy them? In the end, I went for it, because one of the real pleasures of this group is the openness to our diverse tastes in food and books.

I ran some errands the day of, and came home with a six-piece set of oval single-serving baking dishes. Perfect. Washed those, and got to work. Best to get my parts made: the mushroom filling and the pastry topping. Any vacuuming or dusting that could be done along the way would be a bonus!

First, I opened a 1/2-ounce package of dried porcini mushrooms into a measuring cup and covered with 2 cups of hot water to steep for 30 minutes, to soften the mushrooms and to have a nice mushroomy liquid to add along with the broth.

I heated a large pan over medium heat and poured extra virgin olive oil to coat the bottom. To this I added 1 cup of diced onion; 3 garlic cloves, minced; 1 cup of peeled and diced sweet potato; and 3 celery stalks, diced. I stirred in a tablespoon of butter, a tablespoon of dried tarragon, and salt and pepper, then let it all cook and soften.

I rinsed and patted dry a 1/2 pound of white mushrooms, 1 pound of cremini mushrooms, and a 1/4 pound of shiitake mushrooms. I removed the shiitake mushroom stems…not good eating. And, yes, I do rinse mushrooms, always have, but of course, use your favorite method to clean off dirt. Then I just cut them in half, and sliced those halves, tossing them into the pan as I went along. I let all that cook down, maybe 10 minutes, and then added salt and pepper to taste.

To complement the earthiness of the mushrooms, I added a 1/2-cup of dry Marsala wine. I’d originally thought to add white or red wine, but the recipe in Food & Wine used Marsala, and I decided that was worth a trip to the liquor store. I liked the idea of the sherry/port kind of flavor that the Marsala would bring. In fact, any of those would be a complement: wine, sherry, port, or…Marsala. I let that cook until it evaporated, concentrating its flavor into the mushrooms, about 5 or 10 minutes.

I stirred in a 1/2 cup of flour til it was all absorbed.

Then it was time to add the porcini and stock. I drained the porcini over a bowl to capture all the porcini-flavored liquid, and rinsed the porcini, because they had some grit. I chopped those and added to the rest. They could’ve gone in sooner. I just hadn’t, because I had set my liquids to the side. I poured most of the porcini liquid in, too, stopping at the point where the grit had settled at the bottom. And I added 2 cups of vegetable stock. Stirred everything together, simmered until thickened, turned off the heat, and put the lid on.

I buttered the inside of my new oval serving bowls, including the rim, and set them on a baking tray.

I thought about a biscuit topping, like in the magazine article, and I even thought about making them heart-shaped, like biscuits I saw online. In the end, I went with puff pastry. Light, flaky and…ready-made.

I thawed a package of two puff pastry sheets on the counter per package directions. I put a little flour on the counter, and rolled the sheets out, turning one of the oval dishes upside down on one of the sheets to see how large a rectangle to cut. Proceeded to cut six rectangles, placed them on a parchment-line baking sheet, covered with plastic wrap and put them in the fridge, until I was ready for them.

When it was time to assemble, I turned the oven on to 400°, draped the pastry rectangles over the filled dishes, and brushed with an egg and water wash. Into the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes, when they were hot and golden brown.

mushrooms4 2.9.13They were beautiful to serve and satisfying to eat, with every spoonful bringing some of the puff pastry into the rich mushroom filling.

A lovely midwinter’s meal with lovely, book-loving friends.

On a Slow-Cooking Afternoon

My partly Polish husband said, “Golumpki.” He was tossing the idea out to me, because I’d said I was going to focus on greens and beans for a few weeks.Greens1 2.2.13

I liked it. I said, “Ok.”

Traditionally filled with rice and a ground meat blend, I could fill the stuffed cabbage rolls with a rice-and-lentils mix instead.

He suggested it a couple of weeks ago, which was good. I could look ahead and see the right afternoon with lots of free hours…because it’s a time commitment, as it often is with layered or stuffed dishes. Minimal ingredients, lots of time.

I don’t often have all four burners going, but I did on this one. I had a pot of boiling water for the cabbage. I had a pan simmering with sauce. I had lentils cooking in one pot and rice in another.

Of course, there are great shortcuts for something like this, which can get you to the filling-the-cabbage-leaves part that much more quickly. A favorite jarred sauce. Frozen rice. The packages of prepared lentils that can be found in grocery-store produce sections. All at your disposal when you’re craving stuffed cabbage rolls, and just can’t get them into the oven fast enough!

But the slow-cooking afternoon-into-evening was what I’d allowed for, so I was up for leisurely.

I opened a favorite pale ale and got to work.

First, the parts.

  • 1 medium head of cabbage, cored

Sauce:

  • olive oil (I had extra virgin at hand, so used that)
  • 1/4 cup diced onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 28-oz. can diced or crushed tomatoes
  • 1 or 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper

Filling:

  • olive oil
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 5 cups cooked lentils (2 cups uncooked gave me 5 cups cooked)
  • 4 cups cooked basmati rice (1 cup uncooked gave me 4 cups cooked)
  • 1 cup chopped parsley
  • salt and pepper

This is how I put it together.

While I was bringing a large pot of water to a boil for the cabbage, I made the sauce, so that it could simmer while the other ingredients cooked. Next, I got rice started. And then the lentils. If doing from scratch, just follow package directions. I’ve indicated above how much is needed in dry measurement to get the cooked amounts.

Cabbage. Added salt to the pot of boiling water. Added the cabbage, whole. I had a strainer over a bowl on the counter next to the pot, and also a dish towel spread out on the table. As the head of cabbage simmered in the water, the outer leaves began to come loose. I used tongs to peel the leaves away into the strainer. Gathered a few leaves there, then transferred to the dish towel. And continued until done.

Sauce. Heated a pan over medium heat, and lightly coated with oil. To that I added the diced onion and minced garlic, allowing to soften. Then I added the can of diced tomatoes. I usually use crushed tomatoes. Because I had a can of diced tomatoes in the cabinet, I used that instead, and then brought out the immersion blender to puree a little, leaving a few tomato chunks. Added the bay leaves, and salt and pepper to taste. Oh, and since I was sipping on a beer, poured a nice amount of that in, too! Covered the pot, brought to a boil, then lowered the heat to a simmer.

Filling. Heated oil in a large skillet. Into that, I added the diced onion and minced garlic, allowing to soften. Then I added the rice and lentils, adding plenty of salt and pepper, testing as I went to get the seasonings where I like them. Warmed it all through, then tossed in the parsley.

Assembling. Brought all the parts to the table, including a large paella pan to cook the cabbage rolls in. I turned the oven on to 350°. Cabbage rolls can also be cooked on the stove top, the rolls neatly piled into a sturdy pot and simmered two or three hours over low heat, which allows juices and flavors to combine and deepen that way. I decided to go the oven route.

I spread a thin layer of sauce over the bottom of the pan, then generously filled each of the varying-sized leaves, leaving enough leaf edges to fold over the filling, and placing them seam-side down onto the pan. I spread a thin layer of sauce over them, made a second layer with the rest of the cabbage rolls, and drizzled the rest of the sauce over.

Covered with foil, they cooked for an hour, and then another 15 minutes without foil to brown a little. My husband and I were hungry by then, and were happy to call them done. They were tender, they tasted good, but…the flavors were still separate, not that slumped-togetherness where flavors have all slipped into each other.

Greens2 2.2.13So I put the rest back into the oven for another hour, with foil on. When I pulled them out this time, they looked liked I’d wanted them to look the first time: more sunk, settled in, and browning. I let them cool, put them in the fridge, and the next day we microwaved a few for lunch…so good!

One change for the next time: I would add something to bind or moisten the rice and lentils together. Maybe a little of the cabbage water that had sat aside in the pot, maybe a little oil, and maybe even use a potato masher or my hands to mash them into each other more, so that when you eat a forkful, it’s a beautifully contained bite, rather than loose kernels falling out onto the plate.

Of course, very tasty loose kernels.