The first time I had a giant portobello mushroom was back when I thought vegetarians were weird and the only mushrooms I had ever known were of the button variety, came presliced and packaged in plastic wrap, and didn’t really do anything for me. But then my aunt served me a grilled burger whose patty was – gasp! – a giant mushroom. The surprisingly meatiness of the mushroom, in combination with its smokey flavor, was so satisfying that I barely missed the meat.
This time around, I got a little too excited at the prospect of using a portobello mushroom as the hearty plate for a smaller pasta dish, and went a bit overboard. Essentially, I made one initially confused dish, but was able to modify it into two separate, fantastic recipes that ended up working wonderfully. Part of the initial problem was that I really wanted to pair the mushroom with a more robust and fresh sun-dried tomato and spinach sauce, while Jay was in the mood for a cabonara sauce (egg, Parmesan, and bacon – or, in our case, pancetta). But, in trying to please both of us, I just did too much.
So please do as I say, not as I did. The sun-dried tomato and spinach sauce, unlike the carbonara, did a wonderful job of standing up to and enhancing the smokey, meaty portobello. I also liked that the sauce tasted delicious and fresh, and that the whole sauce-pasta-mushroom combination was healthy yet seemed very hearty (despite a smaller pasta serving) thanks to the mushroom.
While I wasn’t the biggest fan of my initial carbonara-on-portobello combo because the mushroom completely overpowered the simplicity of the carbonara, I really loved how much more fun – and tasty – the carbonara became with a poached egg on top. Sometimes, because there’s not a lot of “sauce” to carbonara and because the pasta does a great job absorbing the cheesy egg sauce, the final mixed pasta carbonara becomes a little too sticky and dry for my taste … unless I eat it straight out of the skillet. But adding a poached egg on top of the pasta (and using one less egg in the actual “sauce”) kept the sauced-up pasta carbonara fresher because the runny yolk re-moistened the pasta.
Thankfully, I’m pretty flexible in the kitchen, and was willing and able to rectify my initial mistaken instinct when I tasted the dish before serving and realized the eggy-cheesy-pancetta deliciousness of pasta carbonara was almost entirely overrun by the broiled smokiness of the portobello. So if you ever encounter a similar situation in the kitchen, be glad you tried it before serving it to others – and don’t despair because your corrective efforts will likely yield two different and delicious dishes rather than just one mediocre pile of food. And who doesn’t like a twofer deal?
Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomato-Spinach Sauce on Broiled Portobello Mushroom Plate
Serves 2, but easily doubled or tripled
If you’re trying to cut pasta out of your diet, you can easily go “protein-style” and fill the portobello with scrambled eggs (or scrambled tofu!) mixed with this same tomato-spinach sauce or a robust salsa.
1/3 c. sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 c. spinach, packed
1/2 c. fresh, ripe tomatoes, quartered (I used campari tomatoes)
2 Tbsp. oil from sun-dried tomatoes (or a robust olive oil)
1 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
2 portobello mushrooms, 5 inches in diameter
1 clove garlic, minced
2-4 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to broil. Line baking sheet with foil.
Remove mushroom stems, and discard. Scoop out inside centers where stems were attached (otherwise they’ll be tough). Generously brush olive oil over both sides of mushrooms. Put mushrooms on foil-covered baking sheet, with dark gills facing up. Evenly sprinkle minced garlic, salt and pepper over mushrooms. Broil mushrooms 5 or 6 inches from heat source until they begin to soften, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Flip mushrooms over, and broil until tender when pierced with fork, 6 to 8 minutes longer.
Meanwhile, in a food processor, roughly chop sun-dried tomatoes. Add spinach, fresh tomatoes, oil from sun-dried tomatoes, and red pepper flakes (if using), and process until mixture becomes a thick sauce. Add salt to taste. To heighten the fresh flavors in this sauce, heat sauce in microwave for 1 minute, stirring at 15-second intervals, and set aside. (Note: This makes approximately 1 cup of sauce, which will coat 1/2 lb. of pasta; however, this recipe for two only requires 1/4 lb. pasta, so reserve the rest of sauce for another use, or broil two more portobello mushrooms.)
Place hot mushrooms on plate, gill side up. Toss 1/2 c. of sauce with 1/4 lb. cooked pasta (angel hair or spaghetti work best for piling atop the mushrooms). Top with sauced-up pasta (and maybe a poached egg if you’re feeling adventurous or if you just want to have fun breaking something open), and serve.
Poached Egg on Capellini Carbonara (with pancetta) (adapted from Emeril’s Classic Spaghetti Carbonara)
Classic carbonara uses bacon, not pancetta, but I prefer the flavor of pancetta. Sometimes, I like to add about 1/2 c. sauteed onions to the mix, but this time I added spinach because I had some extra spinach on hand.
1.5 ounces pancetta, thinly sliced and diced
1/2 c. packed spinach, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 lb. angel hair pasta, cooked al dente
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 to 1/3 c. Parmesan, grated
2 eggs, poached
parsley for garnish
To prepare for cooking the pasta, fill a medium pot 2/3 full with water, and bring to a boil over high heat. To prepare for poaching the eggs, fill a large pot with 3 inches of water, and bring to a slight boil over medium heat.
In a large pan, cook diced pancetta over medium heat until crispy, about 5 minutes, adding chopped spinach about 2 minutes in and cooking until wilted. About 2 minutes before pancetta and spinach are done, add angel hair pasta to the boiling water, and set timer for 3 minutes. Remove pancetta and spinach, leaving remaining oil in the pain, and set pancetta and spinach aside. Add garlic to the pan, and saute for 30 seconds. Meanwhile, drain pasta, reserving 1/2 c. pasta water. Add pancetta, spinach and (drained) al dente pasta to the pan, and cook for 1 minute.
Remove pan from the heat. Add the lightly beaten egg, whisking quickly with a fork until the eggs thicken, but do not scramble. Add cheese, and then add salt and pepper to taste. Cover with foil to keep warm while you poach the eggs.
Poach the eggs to desired firmness, following these instructions (I recommend leaving the yolk at least a little runny because it adds to the sauce). 2 minutes before eggs are done, add 1/4 c. reserved hot pasta water to the pan containing the pasta mixture to reheat and re-hydrate the pasta. Scoop pasta into serving bowls, top each serving with a poached egg, and garnish with parsley.