Monday, December 3, 2012

The portly portabello

We love them for their meaty texture and deep, earthy flavor.  They astound us with their size and versatility.  They're delicious stuffed, grilled, broiled or sauteed.  But what is a portabello mushroom, anyway?  

Photo from
The simple answer is that the portobello is really an overgrown mushroom.  In its infancy and adolescence, it was once a brown-tinged crimini mushroom (also known as an Italian brown mushroom) and a close cousin of the common white mushroom.  But now, with its wide berth, it is the granddaddy of all the mushrooms on the supermarket shelf.

There are, amazingly, larger edible mushrooms on the planet; find one here.  Additionally, for a nice little pictorial compendium of edible mushrooms, go here.  You can find some lovely mushrooms, each with their own characteristics, flavor and beauty, in a well-stocked produce department.  Consider, for instance, the delicacy, charm and crisp texture of enoki mushrooms, contrasted with the dramatic beauty and exotic apricot-like fragrance of the black chanterelle.

Mushrooms, in general, have some nutritional benefits, namely Vitamin D and antioxidants, so eating them in the company of other whole foods is a great idea.  And in 2009 the International Journal of Cancer published a case-control study with compelling findings:  Chinese women who consumed higher quantities of mushrooms reduced their risk of breast cancer.  Amazingly, their risk was further reduced when mushrooms were eaten in combination with increased consumption of green tea (Min Zhang, et. al 2009).

So what are you waiting for?

Unfortunately, some of us (read, husbands) don't like mushrooms.  What's not to like?  Well, for one thing, some people don't like the flavor of mushrooms (a friend's husband once said my mushroom and barley soup tasted like earthworms!).  Then there's the texture, which can offend the Fungi Fearful.  Since my husband is a Texture Queen, he eschews things like mushrooms, asparagus, bread that is too crusty, veggies that are too crunchy and cold, cooked shrimp.  Appreciative though he is, cooking for him has been rather like wandering through a culinary landmine and I often wonder if he doesn't like to chew anything!  But I have discovered that if I wrap something in bacon or proscuitto before I cook it, he's likely to at least try it.  Ditto for dousing feared foods in copious amounts of butter and cheese, so I have resorted to this kind of culinary manipulation in order to get him to try foods he claims he doesn't like (which sometimes negates the health benefits of almost anything).  The experience has been like cooking through The Sneaky Chef for adults, which apparently is already on bookshelves.  It's good to know other wives have food-phobic husbands.

The recipe I want bring you today was one I developed on Thanksgiving Day of this year, a result of just foraging about for ingredients, which, I have found, often produces the best results for great food.  This portabello is drizzled with EVOO and dry sherry, then stacked with sauteed garlic spinach and finished with cheese, breadcrumbs and smoked paprika.  Additionally, the recipe is meatless, which makes it vegetarian-friendly.  If you omit the cheese, it becomes vegan- and Paleo-friendly, although vegans could substitute soy cheese and some Paleo eaters I know will occasionally indulge in cheese.

But for me, I'll take all the cheese I can get.

The main reason why I wasn't hungry for Thanksgiving dinner...

Portabello Mushroom Caps with Garlic-Spinach and Asiago

     These appetizers have plenty of umami even though they’re meatless.  Pair with a pinot noir, sangiovese or a not-too-oaky chardonnay.

4 portabello mushrooms, wiped clean, stems removed
1 Tbs. EVOO for cooking, plus more for drizzling
4 Tbs. fino sherry (or substitute any dry sherry)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 lbs. fresh baby spinach, rinsed well
1 clove garlic, finely minced
½ cup shredded asiago cheese, divided
Ground nutmeg
4 Tbs. fresh breadcrumbs
Smoked paprika
      Preheat oven to 400 degrees.    Rub mushrooms well with EVOO and place gill-side up in a baking dish.  Drizzle mushroom caps with more EVOO and drizzle with the sherry, dividing evenly among the mushrooms. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.  Saute spinach in EVOO with garlic, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.    Sprinkle each mushroom cap with 1 Tbs. asiago cheese, dividing evenly, reserving remaining cheese for later.  Divide sauteed spinach among the mushroom caps.   Sprinkle each mushroom lightly with nutmeg, then sprinkle with breadcrumbs, dividing evenly, followed by remaining cheese, dividing evenly .  Bake mushrooms for about 20 minutes, or until cheese is slightly toasted.    Remove from oven and sprinkle each mushroom with smoked paprika.  Makes 4 appetizer portions.

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