While preparing the following dish I felt like a medieval sorceress conjuring a different physical sensation with each step. The Mushroom Essence was simmering away for hours, tantalizing earthy steam heavy on the garlic clearing the sinuses. When the shallot, garlic, white wine, and garlic chives (plucked from my herb pot on the back porch while cackling with joy – Harbingers of Spring!) were cooking-down, mouths were watering uncontrollably. While the Portobello mushrooms roasted, slick with olive oil and garlic, stomachs were growling, cheeks were flushing with heat, and anticipation.
My attention was brought recently to my Café Flora cookbook (where this recipe hails from, with a couple minor variations) sitting on the shelf demurely in its sort-of lonely vegetarian slot. This restaurant has been serving up creative and delicious vegetarian and vegan dishes since 1991, and is not only renowned in Seattle, but the entire US! They’ve got an eco-conscious philosophy from the organic, local menu to the building itself, using reclaimed wood from local farms and soy-based stains on the floors. If you’re in the area go there. Meat-eater or not it will delight you. If you don’t or can’t go, and like a beefy-tasting-yet-vegetarian sandwich, make this. Dip a corner into the steaming magical mushroom concoction, roll your eyes upward and grin. Spring is on its way.
½ pound whole crimini or domestic mushrooms, including stems
6 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
2 Tbsp. tamari
Combine the mushrooms, garlic, and 6 cups of water in a 3-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and cook at a low boil. Cook for about 1 hour, or until the liquid has been reduced to 2 cups. If you want an even more intense mushroom flavor, keep the saucepan on the stove for several hours at a very low simmer, until the liquid has been reduced to 1 cup or less.
Strain the liquid, and add the tamari. (Just disregard the mushrooms – they’ll be depleted of flavor and just rubbery nothings after this.) Keep warm until ready to use, or refrigerate or freeze for use later.
1/2 tsp. olive oil
½ large shallot, minced
½ tsp. minced garlic
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, chives, or basil),
or 1 tsp. dried
2 Tbsp. white wine
¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature (or soy-based margarine for vegans)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot, garlic, and herbs, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the wine, and cook until most of it has evaporated, but the mixture is still moist. Remove from the heat, and cool completely.
Add the cooled shallot mixture to the softened butter, and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste.
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. minced garlic
3 Portobello mushrooms, reserving the stems for Mushroom Essence
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large yellow onion, halved and sliced in thin crescents
1 rustic baguette
French Dip Spread (recipe above)
Optional: 4 slices Swiss, mozzarella, or provolone cheese
(I used Beecher’s cheddar and it was soooo good!)
About 1 1/3 cups Mushroom Essence (recipe above)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and garlic in a small bowl. Brush the Portobello caps on both sides with this mixture, and sprinkle each side with salt and pepper. Place gill sides down on a baking sheet, and roast for 25 minutes. (Leave oven on for subsequent step.)
When mushrooms are cool enough to handle, slice each cap thinly, trying to get at least 8 – 10 slices per cap. Set the mushrooms aside.
While the Portobello caps are in the oven heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring once or twice, until it has begun to soften. Turn down the heat to low, and cook the onion for 15 – 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
If the onion starts to stick, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water (or some of that white wine since you have it), and stir to remove any bits of onion from the bottom of the pan. When done, the onions should be various shades of brown, soft, and sweet. Remove from heat and set aside.
Cut the baguette into 4 equal portions, 5 or 6-inches long. (Don’t use the ends.) Slice each hunk in half lengthwise. Spread each of the 8 halves with 1 tablespoon of French Dip Spread.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Place as many baguette pieces as can fit in the pan spread-side down, and griddle the bread for 3 minutes. Repeat this process for remaining bread.
Place 4 baguette pieces, griddled side up, on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Top each with ¼ of the Portobello slices and sautéed onions. Top with a slice of cheese, if using.
Put these 4 bottom halves in the 350-degree oven, and bake until the cheese melts and the sandwich is heated through, about 10 minutes. Top with remaining buttered halves of baguette, and bake for 3 minutes longer.
Slice each sandwich in half at an angle (carefully, or everything will smush out), and serve with a side bowl of Mushroom Essence as a dipping sauce, about 1/3 cup for each serving.