I did a sit-down dinner last weekend for 12. My client’s mother was turning 90, and her family wanted to celebrate in style.
There were a couple of challenges:
*The venue’s stove didn’t have working burners, meaning nothing could be seared, boiled or sauteed. (10 Lessons I’ve Learned As A Personal Chef.)
*The menu had to satisfy both meat-eaters and vegans.
It didn’t take long to come up with a first course (roasted butternut squash and apple soup, made in a crock pot). Or a second (baby spinach and endive salad with candied walnuts and pears). But the entree proved trickier.
At first I thought about Ina Garten’s fantastic roasted vegetable and orzo salad (minus the feta, of course). But oops. I’d have to boil water for the pasta.
Next, I considered roasting red peppers and stuffing them with a hearty bulgur salad. But my client deemed that a bit too hippy-dippy for the carnivores.
That’s when I turned to portabellas.
I love the meatiness and heft of these monster Italian mushrooms. Their savory flavor stands up to assertive marinades and spices; their size guarantees they’ll hold their shape when roasted, grilled or broiled. Best of all, at 5 grams of protein per mushroom plus healthy doses of thiamin, vitamin B6, folate and fiber, portabellas are a healthy entree choice — regardless of your eating philosophy.
I decided to pair the mushrooms with eggplant (another B6 and folate champ) and red peppers. Marinated, roasted and topped with a fresh cilantro pesto, they made for a dramatic presentation and a delicious dish that satisfied both the meat eaters and vegans in the crowd.
And they didn’t require a sear, boil or saute.
On another note … I received various comments and emails on my recent post about overcoming an eating disorder. Many fell into the “thank you for sharing your story” category. But others were along the lines of my friend T, who said: “This is so different from what you usually post. I’m not sure what to do with it.”
It was a departure. But as a writer, there are some stories birthed in your soul. These are the stories that cut through artifice and create community. They’re the stories that beg to be told.
I view this blogging thing the same way I view going to church: It isn’t worth it if it isn’t authentic. It needs to be personal and passionate. But most of all, it needs to be real.
I hope you stay on this journey with me! It’s about cooking and food; but it’s also about life.
Portabella Mushroom, Eggplant & Red Pepper Stacks
Take 1 unblemished eggplant and cut it into 8 1/2-inch thick slices. Place the slices on a plate and sprinkle liberally with kosher salt. Let rest for 30 minutes.
While the eggplant is resting, whisk together 4 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, 2 minced garlic cloves, salt and pepper.
De-stem 8 portabella mushrooms and, using a spoon, scoop out the brown gills. Place in a dish and spoon half the lemon/olive oil marinade over. Let sit for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Rinse the salt off the eggplant, then dry the slices. Place the mushrooms and eggplant on a greased, rimmed baking sheet. Brush the eggplant slices with marinade. Place in oven and roast for 15 minutes.
After the 15 minutes have passed, turn all the vegetables over, and coat with the remaining marinade. Roast for an additional 15 minutes.
While the mushrooms and eggplant are roasting, open a 12-ounce jar of roasted red peppers. Slice 1 or 2 peppers into thin strips and set aside.
When the mushrooms and eggplant are done (they should be tender; if your eggplant is at all firm, keep it in the oven for a few more minutes), remove them from the oven. On each of four plates, place 1 portabella mushroom. Top it with an eggplant slice and three red pepper strips. Place a second portabella mushroom on the red pepper strips. Top that with an eggplant slice and 3 red pepper strips. Drizzle with pesto and top with pine nuts if desired. Makes 4 servings.