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FEATURE: COOKING LOCAL PORTOBELLO SALADS WITH CROSTINI

April 16, 2009



            Welcome back to the kitchen. Today I want to continue our trend of easy recipes that are so delicious that you’ll barely notice how healthy they are. These warm, longer days have reawakened my hunger for bright, fresh flavors.

            But as I seek to lessen the amount of meat I eat, I’m also always on the hunt for foods that give the same satisfaction and level of flavor as my old standby recipes. So today I want to share with you a delicious diner salad that you can make either with grilled steak, or broiled marinated mushrooms.

            I know it will be hard to convince some listeners that a mushroom can replace the juicy succulence of a tender sliced sirloin. But I promise you that a well-prepared portobello has all the chewy, juicy awesomeness of its bovine equivalent… plus it’s much lighter on the cholesterol and guilt.

            However, if you’ll forgive the pun, I do have one beef with Portobello mushrooms, a bit of a bone to pick with these oversized fungi. You see, as Americans began to realize how delicious and versatile these big mushrooms are, prices shot up to a bit of a premium. But the dirty little culinary secret is that portobellos are exactly the same species as those common button and crimini mushrooms, they are just allowed to grow much larger and priced twice as high.

            So white, brown, or Portobello, don’t let the label fool you. But because the Portobello is a mature mushroom and its gills are exposed, it seems to absorb more marinade. Plus they are so big, it is easy for them to replace a steak on the plate. Sometimes a little crimini just can’t replace the Portobello. So what is the solution for the value-oriented gourmand?

            Well the good news is that a grow your own mushroom kit is super simple and fairly affordable. With only a few regular spritzes of water, you can have a big flush of portobellos in a couple of weeks. If that’s not in the plans, it’s still sometimes worth it to splurge and buy some from the market.

 

            But enough talk, let’s start cooking our balsamic and garlic marinated Portobello mushroom salad with bitter baby greens and goat cheese. We’ll also make some homemade garlic crostini as a side.

            We’ll use 2 or 3 large Portobello mushrooms for this dish, about 4-6 inches across. It would be best if we could let them marinate overnight, but an hour will do in a pinch. I like to marinate in a gallon size zip top bag, because you can suck out all the air and the flavors will soak in evenly.

            In a bowl, preferably wooden, add about ½ teaspoon of salt. Peel and crush in two large garlic cloves using the back of a wooden spoon. The garlic and salt should mash into a nice paste.

            Now add about a tablespoon of stone ground mustard and about 4 tablespoons of sweet balsamic vinegar. I’ve been out to the garden and gotten a couple sprigs of fresh rosemary, which I’m going to pull off the twig and chop up a bit. You could also use fresh thyme, savory, or tarragon.

            Let’s also add the juice of about ½ lime or lemon. And now we’ll also want a bit more sweetness to offset the tart. You could use honey, maple syrup, or even agave sweetener. But I’m going to use about 1 and ½ teaspoons of brown sugar. For a little bit of spicy fun I’m going to also add a small pinch of red pepper flakes (which are optional) and a shot of whisky. This will add smokiness to the marinade, and the booze will cook off. Finally, let’s add a big splash of extra virgin olive oil, three tablespoons or so. Mix all these ingredients together well and put them in the large zip top bag with the portobellos (remove the mushroom stems and discard if you haven’t already done so). Let all the air out of the bag and set it in the fridge on a plate to soak in overnight.

            When those portobellos have finished marinating, we can cook them a number of ways. The barbeque grill is just about the perfect way, about 10 minutes per side over a medium high heat. Make sure you brush oil on the grate so they don’t stick. Oh, and I like to flip the shrooms over again every 3 to 5 minutes to prevent burning.

You can baste them with the marinade while cooking. The portobellos are done when they have shrunken a bit and darkened, and if you cut into them they will be uniformly grey in the middle (instead of white).

Another great way to cook these is to put them on a broiling rack in the stove. It would still be a good idea to brush the portobellos with some extra marinade halfway through broiling them. I think I’m going to use the oven method today.

Alternatively, we could even cook them stovetop on a medium heat in a little bit of olive oil. If you do sauté them, I recommend you slice the mushrooms into ½ inch thick strips before cooking. OK, let’s pull the portobellos out of the broiler and check that they are tender. They look and smell delicious, so we’ll let them cool a bit before slicing them into strips.

 

To assemble our dinner salad, let’s get some salad greens rinsed off. I’m going to combine some mesclun mix or spring greens with a bit of bitter escarole, chicory, or frisee. These spicier lettuce alternatives play great with the sweet richness of the balsamic portobellos. I’m going to lay down a bed of greens for each person.

Let’s also hard boil some eggs, and once they’ve cooled, we’ll slice one egg for each salad. I’ve got a perfect red pepper to slice up, which will add some nice color to the salad. Carrots or purple cabbage could also liven the palette. Lay down the strips of marinated mushrooms. Now let’s slice up one green onion and a little parsley to sprinkle over the salads. Finally, we can top off these beauties with a sprinkling of tangy goat cheese. Oh, and I suppose if you’ve got some toasted chopped walnuts lying around, that would taste delicious too.

For dressing I’m going to go super simple with some extra virgin olive oil and some aged balsamic, plus a grind of fresh ground black pepper. This looks like an absolutely appetizing salad; light, fresh, and delicious. I like to eat the salad while the mushrooms are still hot, but they are also great cold.

As a sort of alternative to crutons for this salad, we can whip up some quick garlic crostini.

For these we’ll need: 1/2 cup olive oil, 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, 15 1/3-inch slices cut from a French baguette, and Italian parsley, minced, for topping.

Mix the olive oil, crushed garlic, salt, and pepper together in a small bowl and brush lightly on both sides of the bread slices. I like to use a culinary paintbrush I keep in the kitchen for just this sort of thing. Grill the crostini for 15 to 20 seconds on each side, until nicely marked, then remove with tongs and set aside. Tis is of course assuming you are using the grill. For broiling, position the rack so the slices are just about 2 inches from the flame and make sure you watch them closely to turn the slices when the crostini starts to blacken at the edges.

Crostini are crusty, garlicky, and oily in an oh so good way. Sprinkle over with the chopped parsley and maybe even a little sprinkle of parmesan or romano cheese. These will make an irresistible accompaniment to our Portobello and goat cheese salads. Yum!

Another great way to eat these marinated portobellos is to grill and serve them whole, just as you would steak. Top with caramelized onions and a side of garlicky mashed potatoes and some sautéed spinach. This is a real comfort food replacement if you are trying to cut down on meat.

Well friends, that’s about all the time we have this week. But I’d love to hear what you’ve been cooking. Post any questions, comments, or suggestions online at www.kohoradio.com. Keep on playing around with new recipes, your tongue will thank you for it. Cooking local in the KOHO kitchen, I’m Isaac Kaplan-Woolner.

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