Mushroom Meets Grill: Herbed Polenta with Grilled Portobello Mushroom

Mushrooms are frequently described as meaty. Firm-textured portobellos even look like lean meat, especially when they are grilled.

Experts disagree on the spelling of this saucer-size mushroom. The Mushroom Council says portabella, while The Mushroom Cookbook, by Amy Forges (Workman Publishing, 2000) uses portobello. They do, however, agree that it is the meatiest of them all.

Portobellos gained popularity in the 1980s, along with shiitake and oyster mushrooms. Once wild, now they are all cultivated. In fact, the portobello is actually an overgrown cremini, in turn a flavorful, brown variety of Agaricus brunnescens, the mild-flavored white mushroom first domesticated in France around 1700 and now found everywhere.

During cooking, portobellos shrink less than other mushrooms because they are drier. They also cook up firmer. Start with a good-sized specimen, with a cap about five inches across and an inch thick at the center, and it will be as big as a generous burger when it comes off the grill.

When buying portobellos, avoid those with crumbled edges, white spots on top of the cap, or soft gills underneath. Also avoid mushrooms that feel damp or have a musty odor.

Portobellos are sold both loose and packaged. The pre-packaged mushrooms keep in the refrigerator, unopened, for three to four days. For grilling, I prefer the loose ones because they are larger. They are best used within 24 hours. Store loose mushrooms refrigerated, in a large, brown paper bag that holds them loosely.

Brush the caps with a bit of oil (or lightly coat with oil spray) before grilling to prevent sticking and keep the mushrooms from shriveling and turning tough. Grilled portobellos are good in sandwiches, salads and as side dishes, hot or at room temperature.

Herbed Polenta with Grilled Portobello Mushroom - Makes 4 servings.

Ingredients:

* 2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
* 1 cup non-instant polenta or cornmeal
* 4 cups boiling water
* 1 small garlic clove, minced
* 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
* 1 tsp. crumbled fresh thyme leaves, or 1/4 tsp. dried
* 1 tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary, or 1/4 tsp. dried
* Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
* 1/4 cup (1 oz.) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
* 4 large portobello mushrooms, stems removed
* Canola oil spray

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In deep, heavy pot, combine oil and polenta. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until polenta smells toasty, about 2 minutes.

Remove pot from heat. Add boiling water carefully to avoid spatters. Stir until polenta is smooth. Mix in garlic, parsley, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper.

Bake polenta, uncovered 20 minutes. Stir well. Bake additional 20 minutes, or until polenta is creamy. Divide among 4 dinner plates. Sprinkle each with a quarter of the cheese.

While polenta cooks, lightly coat mushroom caps with canola oil spray, sprinkle with salt and grill, underside (gills) down, on very hot grill or in heavy cast iron pan, about 4 minutes. Turn and cook until tender all the way through, about 4 minutes. Top each serving of polenta with a mushroom and serve immediately.

Per serving: 207 calories, 5 g. total fat (2 g. saturated fat), 32 g. carbohydrate, 8 g. protein, 4 g. dietary fiber, 141 mg. sodium.

The Author:

by Dana Jacobi for The American Institute for Cancer Research. The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $86 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.

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