It is not uncommon that, when time permits to shop for fresh ingredients, my eyes do the buying and I end up with something I have absolutely no plan as to how I am going to incorporate it into a dish. The bulk of the time, I am limited to ordering my groceries online and can never truly stimulate most of my senses (admittedly, being able to ‘taste first’ is a tad difficult at times and could potentially result in a criminal record if the shop is not complicit in offering a free sample ;o) – and it is a rare occasion than my work/life routine allows me to stroll down the aisles and truly see what I am buying. The cynic in me (who also has a marketing degree which was abandoned professionally a good few years ago in order to become a ‘nerd’ of sorts), knows that the camera can lie, and I will no longer be suckered into believing that a product’s airbrushed and magically unblemished photo is illustrative of the ‘real deal’ when ingredient shopping online. Seeing is believing.
Not being able to source ingredients as and when I want them, is one of the challenges of dividing my life between rural Yorkshire (which I call home) and London which provides my income and is home to a very special person in my life. Whilst 185 miles between the two locations seems absurd and unsustainable, it really does seem to work. I would relish the opportunity to have more time to buy local ingredients from Farmer’s markets, go foraging for ingredients, or grow my own – it may be a pipe dream at the moment – but we all need to have dreams, right? Alternatively, just become Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall – I am so envious of his lifestyle.
So, where was I? I happened to be in a very niche supermarket called Booths in Ilkley, Yorkshire (they have less than 30 nationwide) which I visited on the way back from the stunning Yorkshire Dales, and immediately experienced what can be best described as a food-gasm – a feast for my eyes of truly fresh and beautifully presented ingredients. What took my fancy was a pair of very sizeable Portabello mushrooms, and as far as impulse buying is concerned, one of my better purchases.
Having been away for a few days, my fridge was at its most bare with a very limited range of ingredients to play with. I had a block of Halloumi cheese, garlic, red onions and red chillis (to be fair I have the latter three ingredients at hand at all times), and wanted to pay homage to this fungus delight. I tried to scour through my jaded and fragmented memory wanting recall of a truly tasty Portabello mushroom based recipe, and nothing materialised. All I could recall was rather disappointing attempts to offer a vegetarian option to an otherwise carnivorous menu which was typically dry, stuffed with breadcrumbs, and pretty devoid of much flavour. Put it these way, whatever I had tried in the past never seemed to do much justice to these robust and meaty-textured gems. So, in typical style, I experimented. The following is what I came up with: Grilled Portabello Mushroom with Halloumi (with a bit more flavour to boot, naturally). Mushrooms work so effectively to absorb flavour, and the more you throw at them, the more they want to kick back.
I also used this opportunity to do a little research, and feel a tad imbecilic by thinking that the name originated from London’s famous Portabello market. I truly despair at myself, sometimes. For one, the Portobello Mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) goes by a range of other names including Agaric cultivé, Champignon de Paris, and Cultivated Mushroom. Secondly the Portabella mushroom is of Italian origin and gets its namesake from Portobello, a town in Italy but the name was first documented by French botanist Joseph Pitton de Tournefort in 1707. History lesson well and truly over, just get in the kitchen and spend fifteen minutes making something both tasty and nutritious involving this cremini mushrooms which are also a great source of fibre, vitamin B12, and are really low calorie. How can you go wrong?
Grilled Portabello Mushroom with Halloumi
- 2 large Portabello mushrooms, or 4 medium, cleaned and stalk removed
- 1 medium red onion, peeled, halved horizontally, and sliced into 2mm thick sliced
- 1 x garlic clove grated
- 1 x red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
- 4 x slices halloumi cheese
- 1 x teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 x tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 3-4 large flat parsley leaves
- freshly milled sea salt and ground pepper to taste
- First, wash and carefully remove the stalk of the Portabello mushrooms.Pat dry with kitchen paper, then place on a foil lined baking tray and drizzle with a little olive oil.
- Place under a medium hot grill, and grill for 4-5 mins, or until the juices start to release from the mushrooms. Remove from gill and set aside.
- Meanwhile, heat up half a tablespoon olive oil, and add the red onion, red chilli, and grated garlic and sweat for 4-5 minutes until soft. Add the balsamic vinegar, season well with sea salt and freshly milled black pepper, and mix thoroughly.
- Next, carefully stuff in inside of each mushroom with the onion/chilli/garlic mixture.
- Then, cover with halloumi cheese slices and trim the pieces into shape so that the onion topping is complete covered.
- Return the mushrooms to a medium-high grill, and grill until the cheese turns a golden brown.
- Remove from grill, then season and garnish with flat leaf parsley.