Who doesn’t love a good mushroom dish? Savoury, delicious and substantial in their protein, they can be the centrepiece of many meat-free meals that even the most dedicated carnivores won’t baulk at. The proper cooking of mushrooms is not difficult. Get your pan hot before adding the oil (or butter) and mushrooms. It’s important to try to brown them before they release their moisture, which will cool down the pan and stop any browning from happening. Browning mushrooms, or drying them, will intensify their strong savoury taste.
Mushrooms have a spongy structure which captures a fair bit of liquid. Throw a mushroom into a pan and you might find all the oil you used sucked up in seconds. When that happens, don’t be tempted to throw in more oil. As the structure of the mushroom breaks down, it will release the oil again, along with its own juices, so if you add more oil you’ll just end up with a sodden, oily mess. This simple dish doubles down on mushrooms for an easy, interesting meat-free meal.
MUSHROOM-STUFFED MUSHROOMS WITH BLUE CHEESE
If blue cheese isn’t your thing, you can use any kind of cheese for this dish, or even just leave it out altogether.
• 4 large portobello mushrooms
• 50g butter
• 1 small brown onion, finely diced
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 10 Swiss brown mushrooms, finely diced
• 4 fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
• 80g enoki mushrooms, cut into 2cm lengths
• 100g blue cheese, crumbled
• 4 sprigs thyme, leaves stripped from the stalks
• 1 tbsp shredded parsley
• 1 tsp olive oil
Remove the stalks from the portobello mushrooms and finely dice them, reserving the caps. Heat the butter in a large oven-proof frying pan and fry the onion and garlic over a medium heat for a few minutes until translucent. Add the portobello stalks, Swiss brown, shiitake and enoki mushrooms for about 5 minutes and fry until well cooked.
Season with salt and pepper. Remove mushrooms from the pan and combine with blue cheese, thyme leaves and parsley.
Fill each portobello cap with a heaped mound of the mushroom and cheese mixture. Preheat oven to 200°C. Heat the olive oil in the same frypan over medium heat and add the stuffed mushrooms, caps down and stuffing facing up. Fry for about 2 minutes, then transfer the frying pan to the oven and roast for a further 15 minutes, without flipping, until the caps are tender. Serve with the winter herb polenta.
Adam’s tip The spongy texture of mushrooms has led to the advice not to wash them before cooking, as they’ll suck up too much moisture. While this is partially true, there’s no harm in giving your mushrooms a quick rinse under running water to loosen any stubborn dirt.
WINTER HERB POLENTA
Getting the texture of polenta right is not as hard as it might seem. It should be somewhere between soft mashed potato and thick custard, so that it spreads ever so gently on the plate.
• 1 litre water (or chicken stock)
• 1 cup fine polenta
• 75g butter
• 100g grated parmesan
• 3 sprigs thyme, leaves stripped
• 1 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
• 1 tbsp finely chopped chives
• 1 tbsp finely chopped oregano
• salt and black pepper, to season
Winter herb polenta. Photo: William Meppem
Bring the water or stock to the boil and add the polenta in a steady stream, whisking constantly. Whisk for about 5 minutes until the polenta starts to thicken. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pot. Simmer for 30 minutes, whisking every few minutes to break up any clumps.
When the polenta starts to pull away from the sides of the pot when whisking, vigorously whisk in the cold butter and parmesan and continue whisking until the butter and cheese are melted. Whisk in the herbs and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with the stuffed mushrooms.