I love a chef who takes as much care with vegetables as with meat and seafood. And I don't mean he or she can make a mean salad or stir-fry -- dishes that, as delicious as they can be, often combine lots of produce into a single mélange. I’m thinking instead of recipes that demonstrate a focus on the technique of cooking a particular vegetable in a way that makes it shine on the plate.
That's what Chris Bianco does. He's the Phoenix chef and restaurateur best known for making some of the country's best pizza, and the author of the new “Bianco: Pizza, Pasta, and Other Food I Like” (Ecco, 2017). Bianco is an equal-opportunity chef, piling pulled lamb onto sandwiches and soppressata onto pizza dough, but also gently cooking beautiful beans for the classic Italian dish pasta e fagioli, grilling zucchini to combine with an egg and mint, and roasting mushrooms with a hoppy beer.
I jumped at the chance to make the latter. Bianco has you rub large portobello caps with a generous amount of olive oil, throw a bunch of smashed garlic cloves into the pan with them, along with a half-dozen rosemary sprigs, and then glug in three-quarters of a bottle of beer. Simple - and powerful. As the mushrooms roasted, the beer bubbled away and infused the fungi with a deep, slightly tangy flavor.
As instructed, I let them go until the liquid had reduced down to very little, then deglazed the pan with the remnants of the bottle. As soon as they were ready, I knew just what to do: I took some soft ciabatta I had on hand, and made a simple sandwich with a mushroom cap, a couple of those softened garlic cloves, a single slow-roasted tomato and mayo. It was heaven.
Bianco suggests you serve the mushrooms whole, or sliced on the diagonal as you would a steak. I'll try that next time, but for now I'm happy making sandwiches, and I can't imagine ever wanting to cook portobellos any other way.
Adapted from "Bianco: Pizza, Pasta, and Other Food I Like," by Chris Bianco (Ecco, 2017). Feel free to substitute other herbs; thyme is another classic with mushrooms. You can also experiment with other types of mushrooms and other libations, including wine and bourbon.
8 large portobello mushrooms
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, or more as needed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed
8 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
6 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 (12-ounce) bottle beer, such as brown ale, pale ale, IPA, stout or porter
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Brush the mushrooms lightly to remove any dirt. Pull off the stems and discard or save for another use. Use small spoon to gently scrape away the gills from the mushroom caps.
Lay the mushrooms in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet or a flameproof roasting pan, gill side up. Drizzle with the oil, using your clean hands to coat the mushrooms evenly. Season with salt and pepper, then scatter the garlic and rosemary around the mushrooms. Pour about three-quarters of the beer over the mushrooms (save the rest for deglazing).
Roast (middle rack) for 10 minutes, or until the mushrooms have started to collapse. Using tongs, flip the mushrooms over and carefully push them around a bit to coat the gill sides in the roasting liquid. Flip the mushrooms back (to be gill side up) and roast for 10 minutes, or until the juices have caramelized and reduced to about 1/4 cup. Taste, and add more salt and pepper as needed.
Remove the skillet or roasting pan from the oven and arrange the mushrooms and garlic on serving plates. Set the skillet or roasting pan on the stove over medium-high heat. Pour in the remaining beer and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any stuck-on bits. Once the beer has reduced a little, pour the liquid over the mushrooms.
Serve whole, the way you would a steak, use for sandwiches, or cut into thick slices to present on a platter or use to top a salad.
Make ahead: The roasted mushrooms can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.
Per serving (using 1/2 teaspoon salt): 260 calories, 4 g protein, 12 g carbohydrates, 22 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 290 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar
Yield: 4 servings.