Portabella, portobella, portabello, portobello. No matter how you spell it, this large, meaty mushroom is a relative newcomer in the culinary world. Portobellos are simply grown-up cremini mushrooms, and the name "portobello" was made up in the 1980s by folks who determined the once-discarded vegetable was actually marketable.
Originally imported from Italy, the typical portobello is four to six inches in diameter, with a darker flesh than the button mushroom. They're now grown in the United States, and nearly worldwide.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, portobellos are an excellent source of selenium and a good source of copper, potassium, niacin and pantothenic acid.
The rich, earthy flavor and robust juices of portobellos make them the perfect stand-in for meat in sandwiches, on pizza and in casseroles. Serve them roasted, baked, sautéed or grilled, as veggie burgers (as in these Marinated Portobello Mushroom Sandwiches), or layered in lasagna. This recipe for Ravioli Lasagna with Baby Spinach and Portobello Mushrooms is a quick yet elegant dish.
Of course, the large caps are a perfect for stuffing, as in this Spinach and Almond-Stuffed Portobello Mushroom recipe. Cut up the caps and stems, and use them in soups, chilis and stews, stuffings, pasta sauces, omelets, risotto and other grain dishes. Or combine them with other mushrooms, as in this Mixed Mushroom Ragout.
Portobellos are delicious with fish, pancetta (or bacon!), onions and bell peppers. For condiments, grab olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and Dijon mustard. Season these robust mushrooms with sea salt, black pepper, basil, oregano, rosemary, garlic and thyme. Good cheese accompaniments include goat cheese, mozzarella, provolone and blue cheeses.
A few cooking notes: It's not necessary to remove the mushroom gills for cooking (unless you're stuffing the mushrooms). The gills do produce dark juices in a dish, though, so if you don't want the resulting browning, then remove them. And while the stems may be a bit too tough to eat raw, be sure to include them in cooking. To gauge the amount you need in a recipe, it may be helpful to know that six ounces of Portobello mushroom caps equals about 2 1/4 cups chopped mushrooms.
Portobellos are available year round, though they're often best in the spring and fall. Choose mushrooms that are firm and solid, not limp or slippery. They should smell earthy, not moldy. Don't worry about slightly wrinkled caps; they have even more flavor than smooth caps. Brush the mushrooms off before eating or cooking, or wash them gently.
For storage, place the mushrooms on a tray and cover them with dry paper towels, or just place in a dry paper bag, and keep in the refrigerator. Mushrooms are sensitive to air oxidation, so keep them covered. They should be good for about five days.
This once discarded vegetable is now widely appreciated and enjoyed.