Not long after having my third child I was talking to a friend about how overwhelmed I was, explaining that I could no longer keep the “to dos” straight in my head. With the various activities, play dates, nap times, and many appointments, along with my own schedule, I wasn’t able to keep track of it all.
With a look of compassion towards my bedraggled postpartum self, my friend leaned in and asked, “Are you writing all of these things down?”
“You mean, like, make a list?” I asked quizzically. I’d never done that before. But I’d also never had three kids before and all the robbing of brain cells that goes along with it.
Anyway, it was genius. Write it down. I’ve been a mad list-maker ever since.
With one exception: The grocery store. I rarely use a shopping list. I know, I know. Not having a list leads to impulse purchasing, overspending, forgetting things you need. But the market, whether it’s the grocery store or the farmer’s market is where I get my inspiration. I poke around and see what grabs my eye: a particularly glossy piece of fish, a creamy wedge of cheese, a head of gorgeous lettuce, and the ideas for what I’m going to cook that night bubble up.
Such was the case the day I made these Pesto Portabella Mushroom Burgers. I had a hankering for a burger, but wasn’t in the mood for meat. And it needed to be quick. Portabella mushrooms seemed the perfect answer, albeit a little “1990s”, having largely gone the way of sun dried tomatoes and raspberry vinegar.
I hadn’t grilled a portabella mushroom in years, but passé or not, they’re delicious. And so easy. Once that grill is hot, this meal could qualify as a 15-minute fix: Dinner from start to finish in a quarter of an hour. If you don’t want to bother with the barbecue, you can cook them under a broiler.
Portabellas are just mature Cremini mushrooms, the common brown variety. Rich in minerals, particularly selenium, copper and potassium, they are very low in calories (about 20 calories a pop).
The texture of the mushrooms offers a meatiness that truly satisfies, and can hold up to a generous bun and flavorful pesto. In this case, I used a loaf of herbed focaccia cut into squares and toasted on the grill. I had some yellow peppers on hand which I charred and then peeled. You can always use peppers from a jar, but if you’ve never roasted your own, it’s worth a go. The kids might like to try their hand at peeling the blackened skins from the peppers. Here is a quick tutorial I found on You Tube that might prove helpful.
When the burgers are grilled and tucked between the focaccia along with all of the other goodies, they look just as compelling as any meaty number. Upon learning there was a mushroom under that bun and not a patty of beef, my daughter Rosie threw me that look kids give when you are about to feed them something new and different and perhaps a little strange. But one bite in and she exclaimed, “Delish, mom”!
PESTO PORTABELLO BURGERS
• 4 large portabello mushrooms, stems removed, washed
• 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
• Salt to taste
• Freshly ground black pepper to taste
• Four generous slices Mozzarella or sharp Cheddar cheese
• 1 loaf focaccia bread, cut into 4 burger-sized squares and split down the center
• Prepared basil pesto
• 2 small roasted red or yellow bell peppers, split in half*
• 4 large slices ripe tomato
• A large handful baby arugula or spinach
Heat up the grill to medium-high. While the grill is heating, drizzle the oil and vinegar over the mushroom caps and rub all over with your hands. Season liberally with salt and pepper.
When the grill is hot, put on the mushrooms cap side down. Cover the grill and cook until they look quite tender on one side without burning, about 5 minutes. Turn over, cover, and cook on the second side for 3 to 5 minutes until tender but not shriveled. For the last minute of cooking, set a slice of cheese on each mushroom to melt. Toast the buns on the grill.
Remove the buns and mushrooms. Spread a thin layer of pesto on the top and bottom of each bun. Set the mushrooms on each of the bottom buns. Top with the peppers, followed by the tomatoes and arugula or spinach. Serve immediately.
*You can find roasted bell peppers sold in jars in most markets or you can make your own as discussed in the text above.