Whether you’re planning for meatless Monday or looking for something tasty to grill on any other day, how about a meaty grilled portabella salad?
Grill not only the mushrooms, but red and yellow bell peppers and anything else you’d like to add to it, including polenta (see photo below).
Place the grilled veggies atop your favorite greens, with an optional garnish of crumbled feta or goat cheese and a vinaigrette.
PORTABELLA? PORTABELLO? PORTOBELLO?
How can one mushroom, Agaricus bisporus, have three different spellings? After all, carrot is carrot, tomato is tomato, zucchini is zucchini.
The answer: When Americans began to grow and sell them in the 1980s, it was a very small output. The growers, initially Italian Americans who grew the creminis they liked from the old country (creminis are the young form of portabellas), named it. Portabella means “beautiful door; portobello means “beautiful port.”
A grilled portabella salad on baby greens, with grilled bell peppers, balsamic vinaigrette and a garnish of crumbled feta. Photo courtesy Davio’s Boston | Boston.
Or perhaps, as you’ll read below, someone with marketing chops realized it needed a glamorous name in order to sell the mushrooms.
According to Food Timeline, food experts generally agree on these points when it comes to the history of portabellas:
The mushroom was developed in southeastern Pennsylvania from the Italian cremini—which, we must point out, is also spelled crimini, and also called the brown mushroom, Italian brown mushroom and Roman mushroom. Newer “marketable” names including baby portobellos, mini bellas and portabellinis. “Baby Bella” is a trademarked name.
A 1996 article in Nation’s Restaurant News noted that many of the mushroom farmers were of Italian origin. While they originally produced the creminis they knew from Italy, there was no market: The public wanted pristine white mushrooms. The back-to-earth movement of the 1960s and 1970s opened the door for the growers to make another stab at selling creminis.
By accident, growers found that creminis that weren’t harvested grew into extra-large mushrooms. These large mushrooms are here today despite early efforts to thwart them. In a 1996 article in Nation’s Restaurant News on the growing popularity of portabellas, Wade Whitfield of the Mushroom Council, an industry trade group, noted, “They are really culls. You didn’t want them in the mushroom bed. [Growers] would throw them away. There was no market. Growers would take them home.”
Whitfield then noted: “This thing has gone from nearly zero in 1993 to a predicted 30 million pounds this year. It’s a major item. It will be the largest specialty mushroom.” Both cremini and portobello mushrooms are first mentioned in the New York Times during the mid 1980s.
According to The New Food Lover’s Companion, “‘portobello’ began to be used in the 1980s as a brilliant marketing ploy to popularize an unglamorous mushroom that, more often than not, had to be disposed of because growers couldn’t sell them.”
There is no definitive spelling. According to Food Timeline, an un-scientific Google survey at one point showed that portobello got the most searches (169,000), followed by portabella (33,100) and portobella (3,510). Wade Whitfield noted The Mushroom Council preferred “portabella”; we use “portabella” because we prefer how it rolls off the tongue.
Grilled polenta and portabellas are a delicious pairing. Add arugula, shaved Parmesan and a balsamic vinegar reduction Photo courtesy Urban Accents.
RECIPE: STUFFED PORTABELLA MUSHROOMS
Ingredients For 8 Side Salads
8 large portobello mushrooms, stemmed* and brushed clean
Olive oil for grilling, plus extra virgin olive oil for dressing
2 large red bell peppers
2 large red yellow bell peppers
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Optional: 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary for dressing
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 package (4 to 5 ounces) baby greens
1 large handful baby arugula (substitute baby spinach)
Optional garnish: shaved Parmesan cheese or crumbled feta
*Save the stems for an omelet or another salad. To clean mushrooms,
first use a mushroom brush (much more delicate than a regular vegetable brush) and remove any remaining dirt with a slightly damp paper towel.
1. PREHEAT the grill to medium. Brush both sides of the mushrooms with olive oil. Halve and seed the bell peppers.
2. PLACE the mushrooms and bell peppers on the rack and grill until tender, turning occasionally, about 20 minutes. Transfer to plate and season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. CUT the peppers into strips. You can also cut the mushrooms into strips, but they make a nicer presentation whole.
4. MAKE the dressing: Combine 1-1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil in a blender or food processor with the balsamic vinegar, minced garlic and chopped fresh rosemary. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. CREATE a bed of greens on individual serving plates. Place the mushroom in the center, surrounded by pepper strips. Place some arugula in the center of each mushroom. Garnish as desired with cheese. Drizzle with dressing serve.