You say portobella, I say portobello — by any name these grown-up cremini mushrooms, with their dense textures and distinctive woodsy, umami flavors, make a fine stand-in for steak.
The wide, saucer-shaped caps can be stuffed and baked for a quick, satisfying meal. Portobellos are remarkably versatile mushrooms that take to savory herbs such as fresh rosemary, sage and thyme as well as to warm spices like curry, cumin, coriander and ginger.
When shopping for mushrooms, choose those that are firm and have a sweet, earthy scent. They should be dry and smooth, not slimy. While some folks prefer mushrooms with tightly closed caps, their flavor actually deepens as they age and the caps open. But be sure to avoid those with gills that are matted with moisture, which could signal decay and off flavors. This is easier to do with mushrooms sold in bins, not in plastic-wrapped containers.
Store the mushrooms in a closed paper bag in the refrigerator's crisper section, removing those packed in the carton first. Clean mushrooms right before use with a very quick plunge in water and pat them dry with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel. To prepare mushroom caps for stuffing, remove the stems and reserve them for stock. Use a teaspoon to scrape off and discard the gills under the cap before cooking.
The only trick to cooking mushroom caps is to be sure to cook them well. They need a good sear to concentrate their flavors and amplify their earthy sweet notes. You can do this in a hot oven or in a skillet before stuffing. The idea is to draw out the moisture to help keep the stuffing from becoming soggy.
The only limit to what to stuff into those mushroom caps is your imagination. It's a great place to make use of leftover mashed potatoes, risotto, wild rice or roasted vegetables. You might add sizzled sausage, bacon or chopped cooked chicken. Scatter grated cheese over the top to cap them off with a bubbly, toasty crust. Serve with a tossed salad and a wedge of rustic bread and portobello — or portobella — means dinner made easy.
Cheesy Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms
This quick, easy stuffing is a simple mix of sautéed onion, red bell peppers, chopped olives and a handful of shredded mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Feel free to vary the ingredients and use what you have on hand. The only trick is to sear the caps in a hot oven to concentrate the juices and flavors. By Beth Dooley.
• 4 large portobello mushrooms
• 3 tbsp. olive oil
• 1 large shallot, diced
• 1 small red bell pepper, seeded and diced
• 1/4 c. white wine or stock
• 2 to 3 tbsp. chopped pitted olives, black or green or a mix
• 1/2 c. dried breadcrumbs or panko
• 1/4 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
• 2 to 3 tbsp. shredded Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the stems from mushrooms and reserve for stock or another use. Using a teaspoon, scrape out and discard the gills on the underside of the mushroom caps. Place caps cut side down on the baking sheet and roast for about 5 minutes. Turn the caps over and continue roasting another 5 minutes. Remove and set aside. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.
While the mushrooms are roasting, film a large skillet with the oil and set over medium-high heat. Sauté the shallot and pepper until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes, stir in the wine and cook about 1 minute. Toss in the olives and breadcrumbs. Spoon the stuffing into the caps, scatter the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses over the stuffing. Return the mushrooms to the oven and bake until the cheese is bubbly and browned, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Beth Dooley is the author of "In Winter's Kitchen." Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.