The arrival of spring always gets me fired up waiting for the early vegetables. Around here that translates to ramps, morels, asparagus, arugula and one of my all time favorites, spinach. This is not an exhaustive list by any stretch but just a few of the early gifts of the season that we look forward to every year. There are always the standard preparations but the challenge for me is to find tasty new ways to enjoy these jewels while highlighting their natural flavor. Normally I like to keep it simple with a minimal amount of additions, allowing them to be the star. Today, however, I am sharing a recipe I recently developed for an appetizer pairing the meaty portobello mushroom with spinach. Since both the mushroom and the spinach have an earthy flavor, I needed something to balance it out. I chose cheese for its creaminess and tang and almonds for a bit of crunch. The result was both beautiful and a treat to the tastebuds.
Let’s take a minute to talk about this very versatile leafy green vegetable. It is thought that the early Spanish explorers were the ones responsible for bringing it to the United States. “Popeye” was never without its power-packed goodness to supply him with extraordinary strength and endurance which may have contributed to its early popularity. Regardless of its history, it is available year round in its raw form as well as frozen and canned. Experienced cooks know about its shrinkage but if you are a novice in the kitchen, allow this to serve as a warning, a huge amount of raw product will lose considerable volume when cooked. In part, this is because of the ample amount of water it contains. There seems to be conflicting information regarding quantity of frozen vs fresh, but suffice it to say, if you are substituting fresh for frozen in a recipe, it will take about one pound of fresh to yield 1- 1 1/2 c after cooking. That being said, it is often more economical and easier to use frozen when it is incorporated into a dish that is cooked. I assume I don’t have to expound on the fact that fresh is imperative when it is served raw. I might just add, it is this writers opinion that canned is never a good option.
For the featured recipe I chose to use frozen for the above reasons of cost and quantity but if you have it in your garden or it is readily available, fresh is a good choice as well. Here is how it went down in my kitchen.
SPINACH STUFFED PORTOBELLO with ALMONDS
Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis Serves 6
6 portobello mushrooms, stem and gills removed
2T extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
4 large cloves fresh garlic, minced
1t bouquet garni spice, dried (other herbs could be substituted)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 (10 oz.) packages frozen spinach, thawed
1/4 c whole milk or cream
3T sliced almonds, toasted
6 oz. Gruyere cheese, grated (about 1 1/2 c)
3T Pecorino Romano, grated
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Brush mushroom caps with a small amount of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place top side down on a baking sheet.
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, saute the onion until soft. Add the garlic and cook another minute being careful not to burn.
- Squeeze any excess water out of the thawed spinach and add to the onion mixture.
- Season with the bouquet garni, salt and pepper. Stir well and saute for another few minutes. Add the milk or cream and stir well.
- Take off the heat and add half of the almonds, half the Gruyere and the Pecorino Romano; mix well. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust if needed.
- Distribute the filling evenly among the mushrooms and top with the remaining Gruyere and toasted almonds.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the mushrooms are tender and cheese is melted and beginning to brown.
Can be served, cut into bite-sized pieces, as an appetizer or served whole as a main course with a fresh salad and/or pasta lightly dressed with butter or pesto.
I served this as an appetizer but the portobello is hefty enough to satisfy even big eaters as an entree when paired with complimentary sides. If you are vegetarian or just an advocate for “meatless Mondays” this recipe is a must have.
Creamy, earthy, crunchy, spiked with a bit of garlic and herbs, I can’t think of a better nod to the season or better way to spread the love, one dish at a time. I hope you and your family and friends will find this as satisfying as I did whether it is a meal or a snack. Until next time, may you find hope in the season and embrace its bounty. Sending love to your kitchen from mine. Jeanne