Portabello mushrooms are one of my favorite vegetables. They can be stuffed, grilled, roasted, sauteed, you name it. They are incredibly versatile. I happen to love them in practically anything but they are particularly great as a meat substitute because of their uniquely robust umami flavor. Unfortunately I find that many people say they hate mushrooms. My theory on this is that they have never had them prepared properly. The biggest complaint tends to be texture and when they are treated with care, this mushy quality can easily be avoided.
First, take the mushroom and remove the stem. This is where most of the dirt resides and they are hard and woody anyway. If you happen to be making soup, clean them well with a damp cloth and you can use them in the stock for the soup. Otherwise, I simply discard them.
Next, peel the mushroom. As you can see there is a flap on the inside of the mushroom cap after the stem is removed that you can easily grab onto and pull the skin away. This step provides a double whammy. One, it removes the outer layer where there may be dirt and residue. Two, it helps to eliminate one layer of mush and leaves the mostly meaty layer of just the flesh of the mushroom. If you are still concerned about any remaining dirt, you can wipe the mushroom with a slightly damp cloth but DO NOT submerge the mushroom in water. Mushrooms become water logged very easily and then you really have mushy mushrooms. Note: This procedure applies to any mushroom. I always peel them.
Third step, scoop out the gills of the mushroom. This is mostly unique to portabellos and some larger mushrooms that have very pronounced gills. To me they have a distinct dirty taste and I just prefer them to be removed. I use a teaspoon and gently scoop away until most of the gills are gone and you have a clean surface to work with. I find this step particularly important when you are stuffing the mushrooms. The gills muddle the flavor of the stuffing you use and again, make the final product rather mushy.
That’s it! You now have a clean, great textured mushroom to work with. From this point, grill, roast, saute, stuff, soup or whatever you’d like away! What I did with it this weekend was to grill it for a Vegetable Napoleon with Garlic Aioli, Capicola Crisp and Parmesan Tuile. Here’s the Recipe:
While a Napoleon is historically a pastry filled with custard, I developed this recipe as a play on words. The grilled vegetables act as the pastry layers and the aioli as the custard. It is a wonderful salad course that you can use as an alternative to a caprese salad in the fall or winter when tomatoes aren’t exactly ripe. It also has spectacular stage presence. Just a lovely presentation that always impresses guests.
Yields: 4 Servings
4 Portabella Mushrooms, stems removed, peeled and gills cleaned out
1 Large Red Bell Pepper, Seeds Removed and Cut Into 4 Slices
1 Small Red Onion, Cut into 4-1/4” thick slices
1 Small Eggplant, Cut into 4-1/2” thick slices
3 tbl extra virgin olive oil, for grilling
4 Slices Capicola or Sopressata
1 Head Garlic
1 Tbl extra virgin Olive Oil
½ cup Hellmann’s Mayonnaise
2 Tbl Whole Milk
Pinch Salt and Pepper
½ cup Balsamic Vinegar
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
For the balsamic reduction: Place balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer uncovered until the vinegar has reduced by 2/3. Cool.
For the Capicola or Sopressata Crisps: Place on a baking sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven approx. 10 mins or until crispy like bacon. Cool.
For the Parmesan Tuiles: Divide parmesan into 4 equal piles on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place in a 350 degree oven for approx. 10-15 mins or until the parmesan has melted and become crispy. Cool.
For the Roasted Garlic Aioli: Remove any of the outside paper of the garlic as possible. Place on a sheet of aluminum foil and drizzle liberally with olive oil. Seal foil tightly and place on a baking sheet. Bake in a 350 degree oven for approx. 1 hr. Cool. Squeeze all the roasted garlic out of the head into a bowl and combine with the mayonnaise, milk and a pinch of salt and pepper. Chill.
For the veggies: Brush liberally with olive oil and place on either indoor or outdoor grill until grill marks form and the veggies are cooked just al dente.
To assemble napoleon: Place eggplant on the bottom, red onion next, portabella mushroom next and top with the grilled bell peppers. Top each napoleon with about a Tablespoon of the garlic aioli. Drizzle the balsamic reduction around the napoleon and garnish with one sopressata crisp and one parmesan tuile. Serve immediately.