Sunday, January 9, 2011
During a recent family dinner at my brother and sister-in-law's house, my sister served up a batch of very substantial stuffed portabella mushrooms with red lentils and red quinoa. And at Christmas, my mother served baby bella mushrooms with a roasted red pepper sauce, which got me to thinking about what my dream stuffed portabella would contain.
It only took a few days to come up with it, and on New Year's Eve, JR and I feasted on these bad boys, full of hearty polenta, topped with chopped pancetta, and finished off with a quick tomato sauce. That holiday eve tomato sauce cleared the fridge of the very last of our local slow-roasted tomatoes (and I highly recommend going that route if you have some stashed in your freezer), however, crushed canned tomatoes are a fine option as well.
If you don't eat meat, you could easily substitute chopped onion or mushrooms for the pancetta, or omit a topping altogether and just go with the tomato sauce once the mushrooms emerge from the oven.
Polenta-stuffed Portabella Mushrooms with Pancetta and Tomato Sauce:
4 portabella mushroom caps, washed, dried, and stems removed
1 tablespoon olive oil for greasing the pan
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup uncooked polenta (grits)
1/4 cup pecorino-romano cheese
1/4 pound pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, coarsely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup milk (we use 1% - feel free to use what you have in the house)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
freshly ground black pepper
Prepare the polenta according to the manufacturer's instructions, stirring in the pecorino-romano once you've taken the polenta pot off of the burner. Allowing the polenta to sit for five minutes or so will make the transfer to your portabella caps a bit less of a runny polenta mess.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grab a rimmed baking sheet (I found that my 9 by 13-inch lasagne pan wasn't quite ample enough to fit all 4 mushroom caps), and pour a tablespoon of olive oil on the pan to coat the pan and prevent stuck mushrooms at the end of the baking time.
Place the four mushroom caps stem-side up on the pan, then top each with 1/4 of the polenta.
Scatter 1/4 of the chopped pancetta over each of the stuffed mushroom caps, then place the pan in the oven and bake until the mushrooms are releasing their juices and the pancetta is beginning to brown at the edges, 30 to 35 minutes.
Meanwhile, once the mushrooms are in the oven, heat three tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic, and cook until the shallot is translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the crushed tomato, milk, and oregano, and stir to evenly distribute the milk and oregano.
Simmer the sauce gently (we don't want spattering tomato sauce during this process) in the pan for 20 to 25 minutes, by which time, your mushrooms should be ready to serve. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, pull those portabella bad boys out of the oven, transfer one to each of your four dinner plates, top with sauce, and serve them forth.
This tomato sauce is also a good weeknight pasta dinner option, as you might have gathered from its 20 to 25 minute cook time (and 5 or so minutes max to chop the shallot and garlic, plus gather up the olive oil, tomatoes, and milk). With the amount of time that it takes for pasta water to come to a boil, you've got a quick and easy dinner on the table in 30 minutes flat if you do go the weeknight-pasta-sauce route.
Estimated cost for 4 servings: $13.97. We used portabella caps for this, which are priced at $2.99 for two, so $5.98 for 4. Feel free to use whole, unpackaged portabellas for this, which we have also done, and those cost around $2.99 per pound at our local supermarket. The veggie broth for the polenta cost $2.39 for 4 cups, and the polenta cost 57-cents for 1 cup. The pecorino-romano cheese cost 25-cents for 1/4 cup. The pancetta costs $8.49 per pound, so 1/4 pound cost us $2.12. The olive oil for the entire dish costs 48-cents, the shallot cost around a quarter, and the garlic cost approximately 10-cents. The can of crushed tomatoes cost $1.67, the milk costs around 6-cents, and the oregano we used grows as it likes, which is to say out of control, in the borders of our garden, and was dried at the end of the summer. However, if you were to use purchased oregano, it would run you around 10-cents for dried. For less than $3.50 each (okay, it's just a penny less, but it's still less), you and 3 dining companions get a hearty, mushroomy meal. I'd say "sweet", but it's really more "umami". Maybe we could start using "umami" as a synonym for the colloquial "sweet"? Shall we take a vote on that? So far, I count one for making that change.