Enough fungi hating..

I have a confession to make.

I love mushrooms.

No seriously, I LOVE mushrooms. (That's right, I used all caps so you know I mean business.) I'm not really sure where this love for the fungi came from. Perhaps it's my Polish roots shining through? (Mushrooms are to the Polish what potatoes are the the Irish. Only to my knowledge there has been no mushroom famine. Thank god.) Maybe its because they were a constant at my childhood dinner table? (Steak or pizza without mushrooms? That would be crazy!) So there I was, happily enjoying my mushrooms until one day (I actually remember this pretty vividly) I discovered that a lot of people didn't share my love for this fruit of the forest. It was in high school and was on a group date (that's when the guy asked you out on a date but didn't have a car. Since no one likes having their Mom drop you and your date off, he invited his best friend, that had a car, and his girlfriend.) We went to Pizzeria Uno's. The waitress came over to take our order and shouts of "Pepperoni!" "Plain cheese!" "Pepper and Onion!" personal pizza requests could be heard as she went around the table. When it got to my turn, I happily declared my decision; "four mushroom!" I swear that at that moment, the music skidded to a stop and the forks of the other diners fell to their plates with a loud crash. My date and his friend looked at me with horror and disgust.

I couldn't figure out what I had done to be on the receiving end of these looks. I did a quick scan of myself. Was there something in my teeth? Was my fly down? Oh my god, my hair must be sticking straight up..no, no, no...none of that seemed to be the case. I met everyone's eyes and sheepishly questioned, "What?" and braced myself for the answer.

"Dude, your date eats MUSHROOMS!" was the response I got.

"Ewww, they taste like little tongues.." echoed my date's friend's girl.
"I hate mushrooms, they are so gross" my date said, shaking his head.

Although the conversation eventually moved on and my face returned to its normal temperature and color, I just remember sitting there in shock. People don't like mushrooms?! How could one properly enjoy a pizza without mushrooms? It was that same feeling I had when I learned that there was no Santa Claus. How could this be?

On subsequent dates and group gatherings at the pizza place in town, I had learned my lesson. "Plain cheese!" or "Pepperoni!" were my new favorites. I wasn't going to let the mushroom embarrass me again! It wasn't until a couple of years later that I started getting more comfortable in my mushroom loving self and I boldly ordered mushrooms again. And although I was met with the similar reaction of "Eww, mushrooms?" or "Ugh, I hate mushrooms..." I didn't care. In fact, it even made me feel a little exotic and adventurous to be eating something that so few people liked. I love mushrooms and to this day my fridge is always stocked with at least one, if not two different kinds. I love cooking with them. There isn't much to them when they are raw, but when you fry them up, that's when the magic really happens. They turn into these little sponges that soak up any type of sauce that you are cooking with, wine or citrus based sauces in particular. They get all soft and turn this beautiful brown color and add a delicate earthy flavor to any dish. There is a reason why the French call them "champignons." (Does that sound like a familiar word that we have in the English language?? Coincidence? I think not..) You'll notice that throughout my cooking that the humble mushroom makes several cameos in my dishes. If it's not for you, that's okay. I won't judge. Just leave them out. Although I think you'll be missing out. But that's just me.

If it's been a while since you've given mushrooms a go, try this simple recipe that I created for a portabella sandwich. Portabellas are big beautiful mushrooms that do have a sort of beefiness to them. Paired with a tangy marinade, they really soak up the flavor. I also used a grill pan, which gives the mushroom cap those cool grill lines and helps the mushrooms cook evenly. You can use a regular frying pan as well or even bake them at 350 until they shrink in size and become soft. For the sandwich, I used a thick crusty ciabatta roll and added fresh peppery arugula and deliciously stringy mozzarella cheese. I would have liked a big thick slice of tomato in there too but the tomatoes weren't very fresh looking at the store (and I am a total tomato snob) and I didn't have any sundried tomatoes on hand, which would make an excellent addition as well. Also, another side note, this marinate makes a fantastic salad dressing..


Portabella Mushroom Sandwich

-1 portabella mushroom cap (stem removed or trimmed down)
~ 2 tbs. balsamic vinegar
~ 1 tbs. Dijon mustard
~ 1 tsp. or Worcestershire sauce
~ 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
- Fresh black pepper to taste
- 1 large ciabatta roll or other crusty bread roll
- Two slices of fresh mozzarella cheese
- A large handful of arugula greens or spinach
- Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling (optional)

Combine the vinegar, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, rosemary and pepper in a medium sized bowl. Clean mushroom cap by using a damp paper towel to brush away any dirt. (Do not wash the mushroom in water. Because mushrooms soak up water like sponges, by washing the mushroom in water you'll end up with a very soggy sandwich and it will be harder for the marinade to absorb.) Soak the mushroom in the marinade and use a plastic kitchen brush to ensure the mushroom is marinaded evenly. For best results, soak the mushroom for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a grill pan or fry pan on medium heat. Coat the pan with a thin layer of olive oil or cooking oil spray. Take the mushroom out of the marinade and add it to the hot pan. Let the mushroom cook for about 5 minutes before slipping to the other side. Keep brushing the mushroom with marinade from time to time. While the mushroom is cooking, slice the ciabatta roll and hollow out the sides of bread, creating a nice pocket for everything to go into. Add the cheese to one side. Toast the bread until the cheese melts.

You'll know the mushroom is done when it is reduced in size and the cap had opened up. It will have turned a nice dark brown color and will be visibly less firm. When the mushroom is done, add it to the side of the bread with the cheese on it. Brush remaining marinate on the other side of the roll and top with arugula. Drizzle the arugula with extra virgin olive oil if desired.


Anonymous said...

My boyfriend doesn't eat mushrooms but I think I am going to surprise him with your portabella sandwich. It sounds yummy.

E said...

I used to be in the anti-mushroom camp. Though, I would dutifully eat anything that a good cook would put in front of me. Then I discovered the dry sear method. Just put mushrooms in a pan, crank the heat and let them juice. You come away with mushrooms bursting with earthy ripeness and a concentrated mushroom liquid. I like to separate them there, maybe toss some butter, salt, pepper in the pan with the schrooms. Then drizzle that dense murky liquid on anything.

Katie said...

Interesting take on the 'shrooms E. I thought I knew my way around the mushroom but I have never tried this method. That would be great in a risotto!

Sarah said...

Mmmm... still no fungus for this little lady. I'll always give you mine :-)

What's Hot From The Small Boston Kitchen