Portobello

Here’s the story: An overgrown crimini mushroom goes by the name of portobello. To put it another way, once the brown crimini gets to be around 4 to 6 inches in diameter it becomes a portobello. Here, we are dealing with a big brown mushroom with broad appeal, and one that can be used in more ways than any other fungi out there.

The portobello mushroom can be grilled, roasted, sauteed, stuffed, used as a “sandwich,” and as a bird bath (just kidding). The word “versatile” comes immediately to mind when working with portobellos. And because of it’s texture and density, the portobello has been labeled as “vegetarian meat” or the “steak of veggie burgers.”
The name portobello more than likely comes from the Italian word “cappellone,” which means “big hat.”

When purchasing portobello mushrooms, look for those that are firm and solid; limp caps will not do. Also the underside of the mushroom (where the gills are) should not be overly dark or shriveled, since that indicates that the mushroom is headed over the hills.
As it goes with all mushrooms, the portobello should not be subjected to excessive washing or submerged in water. When working with the portobello, simply snap off the stem, tap the cap on a work surface to shake off any matter that might have found its way into the gills, then brush the cap with a soft brush or a damp paper towel.

Now we are ready to use this versatile mushroom. Let’s focus first on how to use the portobello on pizza and in pasta dishes, then move on to other possibilities.

Because of its high water content, it would be a good idea to precook portobellos before using them as a pizza topping. To do this, simply brush the cap and underside with olive oil, line them up on a sheet pan, cap side up, and roast them in the oven. Once cooled, you can slice the caps into strips and use them as a pizza topping or as part of a pasta dish (see recipes below). The wonderful thing about portobellos is that the longer they are cooked (within reason), the “meatier” they get.

Portobello caps also take quite nicely to grilling, so again you would brush both sides of the mushroom with olive oil and grill until cooked through (4 to 5 minutes on each side relative to how hot the grill is).

However, beyond using just olive oil in the prep process, the addition of garlic, herbs, onions and peppers to the cooking process greatly enhances the overall flavor. Try out these recipes:

P & P Pizza (Portobello & Peperoni)
Yield: one 14-inch pizza (scale up in direct proportion)

5 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
2 Portobello mushroom caps, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 clove garlic, minced
1 14-inch pizza shell
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
8 ounces shredded mozzarella (or mozzarella and provolone blend)

In a large saute pan set over medium high heat, add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the red and green bell peppers, the mushroom slices and the garlic to the pan. Stir and cook for about 5-6 minutes until the peppers soften a bit. This is the prep.

To order, brush the pizza shell with the remaining 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Sprinkle the Parmesan evenly over the crust. Add the cooked mixture of peppers and mushrooms. Sprinkle on the shredded mozzarella. Bake.

Note: Peperoni (one p) as in peppers, not pepperoni (with two Ps) as in, well, pepperoni.

Pasta and Portobello
Yield: 4 as a pasta entreé (scale up in direct proportion)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups sliced portobello mushrooms (2-3 caps, relative to size of caps)
1/3 cup chicken broth
4 fresh plum or Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
3/4 pound short pasta (penne, rigatoni, farfalle)
Chiffonade of fresh basil
1 cup grated ricotta salata

Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan set over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and the mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms are tender (6-8 minutes). Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add the tomatoes. Cook and stir for 3-4 minutes. Meanwhile cook the pasta in boiling salted water until it is al dente. Drain the pasta, and toss with the mushroom and tomato mixture. Divide the pasta among four heated pasta bowls. Sprinkle an equal amount of fresh basil and ricotta salata over each portion. Serve at once.

Note: Ricotta salata is a mild and nutty sheep’s milk cheese that I like to use when I want a milder version of Romano cheese. If you can’t get ricotta salata, use Romano.

Portobello Pizzas

In this recipe I use the cap as a pizza crust, so think outside the crust here for a moment and have some fun.

The prep is the roasting of the caps. Remove the stem of the mushroom and brush the mushroom clean. Brush both sides of the mushroom with olive oil. Roast the caps in the oven, cap side up, for about 8 to 10 minutes in a 400 degree F. oven. Set aside.

Now you can stuff the caps with just about anything that you might use as a pizza topping. For example, cooked Italian sausage, pepperoni, peppers, mushrooms, olives, etc.

Try this: Paint the inside of the mushroom cap with your pizza sauce. Sprinkle some grated Parmesan or Romano cheese over the sauce. Put a patty of cooked Italian sausage in the cap. Sprinkle shredded mozzarella over the sausage. Bake in the oven until the cheese is melted. Figure one cap per person as an appetizer.