Sunday, July 12, 2009

something to count on

i've said before that there are
few recipes that i repeat.
while some plates that come
out of our kitchen are delicious
and worth an encore performance,
there are just too many things
out there for a dish to be
made multiple times.

and with that in mind,
the meals that i do make
with some regularity,
would probably be surprising.
they're most likely not the most
or the most amazing,
but they offer some things
even better:
comfort, security
and a sure bet.

and that's how these
stuffed mushrooms came to be
and why they keep coming back.
one day, years ago,
when i was bored with every
possible dinner idea,
i challenged myself to think
about what foods i not only
enjoy, but actually crave.
and, if i'm being fair, i think
i was also trying to remember
what was in the fridge.

i had a bag of spinach
in the cooler
and sweet potatoes
on the counter.
a strong believer that spinach
should usually be paired with
garlic, the cloves were a given.
with more thought, i decided
that golden sauteed onions
would add sweetness to
the greens.
by the time i had landed on
dicing and roasting the sweet potatoes,
i thought i had a
easily pairable
side dish.
it was a start. so i headed to
the store to find its main meal match,
hoping for inspiration.
i didn't make it through produce
before spotting large portobello mushrooms,
and realizing that earlier in the day
i had unknowingly created a filling.
and now? i had stumbled upon its vessel.

the first time i made them,
i was cognizant of the fact
that i clearly was not making
these the simplest way possible.
dicing the sweet potatoes
before roasting them,
steaming the spinach,
squeezing it dry,
adding in chopped garlic,
sauteeing the onions,
stirring everything together
with some grated parm
and then stuffing everything
into the large scraped mushroom.

but it was good.
really good. hot and full of flavor
and very fulfilling for being,
well, a vegetable full of vegetables.
and so, through the years, i've
stuck to the method,
sometimes sprinkling some
feta over top before baking
and serving the caps with
with brown rice
or a big salad.
and i know this sounds sort of
dainty or maybe not like something
that a person who loves food would
want to eat, but i will stand by
these mushrooms.
and i think larry will, too.
i haven't made them since blair
came over in the fall,
when i had the wacky idea
to make a couple different kinds
of stuffed vegetables. not in the kitschy
type of way, but more in the hey,
these would probably all taste really
good together - like a veggie tasting plate -
sort of way. blair, larry and i ate
them together. blair, telling larry,
he was lucky - a compliment that meant
so much, i didn't know where to put it.

recently, i saw beautiful, perfectly
round, deep mushrooms in the store -
screaming to be stuffed.
i placed the sweet potatoes into
the oven and started cooking the onions.
larry walked in, and seeing the spinach
and mushrooms on the counter, actually said,
oh! that's exciting, we haven't had these in a while.
my first thought was that it was slightly sad,
a testament to what he is served around here,
that a veggie-stuffed mushroom made him happy.
my second thought was, that, he's right.
they are good.
i think i was distracted,
thinking about it the bizarreness of it all,
but i looked
at the browned onions and garlic
and thought, why do i spend the
extra time dirtying an extra pot to
steam the spinach?
so i tossed it into the onions,
topped it with a lid
and let the greens steam.
a few minutes later,
they were perfectly wilted
and it was so much easier to stir into
the onions. i sprinkled in grated parm,
very proud of myself for eliminating
a step (and quite befuddled as to why
i had never experienced this moment
of brilliance before), and then i saw it:
all the water seeping into
the bottom of the pot.
that's why i don't do this.
the spinach must be drained,
squeezed of all excess liquid or
it will certainly make the whole thing
a wet, soggy mess.
but now the cheese was in
and the onions and - oh,
get over it, i yelled at myself.
i threw a colander in the sink,
poured in the spinach mixture
and pressed.
i was really bummed,
knowing that i was losing
the cheese (the last of what we
had in the house), that no doubt,
i would lose a few onions
and absolutely some garlic.
but once i put the now significantly
dryer spinach mixture back in the
pot and added the sweet potatoes,
i noticed that the filling was not
so much worse for the wear and
in fact, everything was incorporating
much better than usual.
i'm torn about whether this is the right
method, but it worked.

we were out of feta this time,
so we went without cheese on top,
but to be honest,
it wasn't missed.
the onions and sweet potato
still added deep caramelized touches,
the spinach a subtle bitterness
and the parm,
a great creaminess working
to unite all the ingredients.

for us, this mushroom is dinner.
no worries,
no recipe,
always reliable,
but for you,
if you cannot imagine
this acting as a solid meal,
i think it would make an
excellent side dish.
or - and i've never tried this,
but i've often thought about
it - stuffed into cremini mushrooms,
a yummy vegetarian option
for a cocktail party.
or i suppose,
the spinach and sweet potato
mixture could
morph back into
its intended non-filling form:
a hearty side dish.

spinach and sweet potato stuffed portobellas
the more i think about it, the more i realize that although the method doesn't make a whole lot of sense, i think that next time i would make them the same way that i did during the "mistake." i just liked the way that all of the ingredients mixed together. if it's too impractical for you, simply saute the onions and the garlic. steam the spinach separately and when cool enough to handle, squeeze dry, then stir into the onions. also, make sure that you season well with salt and pepper. when you're dealing with simple ingredients like this, the seasoning makes a huge difference. i've made this both ways many times - with peeled sweet potatoes and without - and i've decided i like it both ways, so i'll leave it up to your personal preference.

and one last t thing, i've never used mushrooms that were so round and deep before. usually, i just buy two, large, equally sized shrooms, and often, they lay quite flat. so don't worry if that's all you find.

1 large sweet potato
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium sweet onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 bag (6 ounces) spinach
2 tablespoons grated parm
2 large portobella mushrooms, caps wiped clean with a damp paper towel and stems carefully removed
kosher salt
cracked black pepper

heat oven to 425˚f. peel potato if desired. dice potatoes into evenly-sized pieces. spread out on a foil lined baking sheet, coated with cooking spray. coat potatoes with cooking spray or mist with olive oil. season with salt and pepper. roast 20-25 minutes, or until golden and tender, flipping once. reduce the oven temperature to 350˚f.

meanwhile, in skillet or medium saucepot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. add onions and cook 10 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring often and lowering the flame if they start to burn or brown too quickly. stir in chopped garlic and cook 1 minute. add spinach; cover and steam 2 minutes. remove lid; stir together. stir in cheese. pour spinach mixture into a strainer and let drain, pressing a bit to release excess liquid. return to pot; add roasted sweet potatoes and stir to combine.

meanwhile (yes, there are a bunch of meanwhiles in this recipe), use spoon to gently remove gills from the mushrooms. it will be a bit messy, but worth it. the gills, when left in, not only produce excess moisture, which can make everything runny (thereby negating the fact that you just dirtied your strainer to drain the spinach), but also add bitterness. season the mushrooms with kosher salt and pepper. place mushrooms on foil-lined baking sheet (if the one that you used for the sweet potatoes is in decent shape, there's no reason not to re-use it).

divide filling evenly among mushroom caps. sprinkle with feta or extra parm, if desired. bake mushrooms 25 minutes, or until the filling is hot and the mushrooms are tender.

No comments: