Sunday, October 19, 2008

Portobello "Steak" and Cheese Sandwiches

A few weeks ago a friend of mine was coming over for dinner. When I asked him what he would like, he thought that some type of sandwich would be good. I am up for sandwiches anytime, so I immediately liked the idea. Possibilities began flying through my mind and I began to crave steak and cheese with sauteed peppers and onions (commonly called a "cheesesteak"). The only problem here is that my wife doesn't eat beef, so I would either have to make some chicken as well or convince her to settle for a pepper and onion sandwich. I also remembered that this particular friend is trying to cut down his red meat consumption, so he might not want steak and cheese. As I mentioned these things to him, he reminded me about a portobello mushroom sandwich I had made one time in the past, which was basically a grilled portobello cap with some balsamic vinegar and mozzarella cheese on a nice roll, and the wheels started to turn in my mind. I figured I could replace the steak with thick slices of sauteed portobello mushroom, keep everything else the same, and make everybody happy (except possibly myself). The sandwich would be healthier for certain, and eventhough I was a little skeptical that it would satisfy my craving, I enthusiastically went forward.

I had recently made an Italian bread recipe that was absolutely incredible, and I figured it would make equally incredible sub rolls. Luckily I had the day off from school in observance of Yom Kippur, which gave me some extra time for a little baking (okay, a lot of baking, some sourdough loaves, multigrain bread, and a quadruple batch of brownies in addition to my sub rolls, which are across the bottom of the rack in the picture).

So basically all I did was slice up a few peppers and onions, then saute them in a little oil over pretty high heat until the onions were soft and browned a little bit. Then I sauteed the sliced portobellos until they were tender. I put the veggies in a baking dish and covered it with foil until I was ready to make the sandwiches. In the meantime, I made some oven fries. When I was ready to make the sandwiches, I just heated a nonstick pan, put down some mushrooms, covered them with a generous portion of peppers and onions, and topped that with some provolone cheese. When the cheese melted, I slid the pile of veggies onto a roll, spread a little mayo on the top, and that was it.

The result? An incredibly good veggie version of a steak and cheese sandwich. I was extremely satisfied. The melted cheese mixes with the mayo and juices from the vegetables which begin to soak into the bread creating one of those whole is greater than the sum of the parts experiences. I honestly did not miss the steak at all. I will definitely be making these sandwiches again.

Portobello "Steak" and Cheese Sandwiches
About 30 minutes - Serves 4

It's my belief that your sandwich is only as good as the bread you put it on, so don't skimp on the rolls. If you're not into baking your own, make sure you get some rolls from a bakery or a good deli that makes their own.

Saute the mushrooms, peppers, and onions in advance and you can then put these sandwiches together in about 5 minutes whenever you're ready to eat.

I love mayo and provolone, but if you don't like one or either of these, of course feel free to substitute cheeses and condiments as you like.
  • 24 ounces of portobello musroom caps (about 10 caps), sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 onions, sliced thin
  • 2 green peppers, cored, seeded and sliced into thin strips
  • 8 slices of provolone cheese
  • Mayonaise
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 sub rolls
  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until the oil starts to shimmer
  2. Saute the onions and peppers, tossing occasionally, until they have softened considerably and the onions start to brown, approximately 6 to 10 minutes, remove them from the pan to a dish and cover
  3. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan, add the mushrooms and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then saute the mushroom slices, tossing occasionally until they become tender, about 5 minutes, remove them from the pan to the dish with the onions and peppers and cover until you are ready to make the sandwiches
  4. When you're ready to make the sandwiches, slice your rolls and spread mayonaise on both sides (as little or as much as you like) and heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat
  5. Place 1/4 of the portobellas in the pan, top with 1/4 of the peppers and onions, salt and pepper to taste, and top all the veggies with 2 slices of provolone cheese
  6. When the cheese melts, use a large spatula to transfer everything to a roll
  7. Repeat with the rest of the ingredients to make 3 more sandwiches

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Chick Pea and Artichoke Heart Stew

Since school started my weekday cooking time has been severely cut down. To compensate, I've been making a double recipe of a different soup or stew every weekend since the beginning of September. The soup gets better and better as the week goes on, and I don't have to worry about cooking dinner when I get home from cross country practice. A nice bowl of soup with a few slices of bread makes a perfect weeknight meal with very little clean up, which is key when the kids need baths, stories, etc...

Chick Pea and Artichoke Heart Stew is one of my (and my wife's) favorites. This is another one of those recipes that was passed my way by my friend John, who got it from the Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home cookbook. Brimming with chick peas, chunks of potato, and artichoke hearts, this is definitely hearty enough to make a meal. Turmeric gives it a wonderful golden color, and combined with sweet paprika, a deep, earthy taste. A sprig of fresh rosemary and some fresh sage round out the aroma of this stew quite nicely. It's actually quick enough to make on a weeknight, as it only takes about 30 minutes from start to finish, but as with most soups and stews, if you take the time to make it ahead, the flavors have time to meld so the soup tastes even better when reheated. I suggest doubling the recipe so you have plenty of leftovers.

The recipe calls for water or stock, but I prefer the extra flavor you get when you start with stock. I'll still use store bought stock in a pinch, but when I have the time, I like to make my own. There are many advantages to doing this. Here's three: First, it's cheaper than buying ready made, second, you can control the amount of salt (since most prepared stock is absolutely loaded with sodium, even the low sodium varieties), and third, it tastes significantly better. What else do you want? I've included a recipe for a quick vegetable stock that is a slightly modified version of a stock recipe from Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson, creator of the excellent food blog 101 Cookbooks.

Vegetable stock can be complex or relatively simple. Basically all you need is some aromatic vegetables, some fresh herbs, and some water. This stock is at the very simple end of the spectrum. The only required ingredients are onion, garlic, celery, thyme, water, and salt. In this version I've added some fresh parsley and carrot, but they are by no means required. Start by chopping the vegetables into large chunks and heating a small amount of olive oil in a large pot.

Dump all the vegetables in the pot and stir them around. Let them sit for a minute or two and stir them again, keep doing this until the vegetables look like they are starting to soften.

Once the vegetables are starting to soften, let them sit in the pan without stirring them for about 5 minutes or so. The goal here is to develop some brown bits (kind of faux vegetable fond) on the bottom of the pan that you can scrape up when you add the water. These caramelized bits will give the stock a deeper flavor in addition to a darker color. Once you have some nice brown bits, add the water and salt.

Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and simmer for one hour.

Strain the stock, pressing down on the vegetables to extract as much fluid as possible. Since this is a meatless stock the only fat is from the olive oil, so you don't have to do any skimming or other type of fat removal. The stock can be used immediately, stored in the fridge for up to a week, or frozen.


The making of this stew goes quick, so prepping all the ingredients in advance is a good idea. One of the ingredients is pureed squash, and the recipe suggests using a jar of squash baby food which is what I have done every time I have made this recipe. It seems easier to me than cooking and pureeing just 1/2 cup of squash or sweet potato. When you're ready to start, heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat until it shimmers, add the onion and garlic and saute until soft.

While the onions and garlic are cooking, bring the water or stock to a simmer. Add the turmeric and paprika to the softened onions.

Add the potatoes, rosemary, sage and then the simmering water or stock.

Bring the stew to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are soft, about 12 minutes or so. At this point you remove the rosemary sprig, add all the rest of the ingredients (pureed squash, chick peas, artichoke hearts), taste, and season with salt and pepper. Return the soup to a simmer and allow the flavors to mingle for a few minutes and you're done.


Vegetable Stock (adapted from Super Natural Cooking)
About 1 hour and 30 minutes - makes approximately 8 cups
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 large onions, cut into eighths
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 2 ribs of celery, chopped into large pieces
  • 5 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 8 cups of water
  • 2 teaspoons of table salt (can be reduced or increased to taste)
  • 2 large carrots, chopped into large pieces (optional)
  • a handful of fresh parsley (optional)
  1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat until it shimmers
  2. Add all the vegetables and herbs to the pot and stir
  3. Stir every minute or so until the vegetables start to soften, about 6 minutes total
  4. Let the vegetables sit without stirring until brown bits begin to form on the bottom of the pot, about 5 minutes
  5. Add the water and salt, stir and scrape the bottom of the pot to loosen any brown bits
  6. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover, and simmer for one hour
  7. Strain the stock pressing down on the vegetables in order to remove as much liquid as possible

Chick Pea and Artichoke Heart Stew (from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home)
About 30 minutes - serves 4 to 6
  • 4 cups water or vegetable stock
  • 2 medium onions, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 4 medium waxy skinned potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 5 leaves fresh sage, minced
  • 4.5 ounce jar pureed squash baby food or 1/2 cup pureed winter squash or sweet potato
  • 3 cups drained cooked chick peas (two 15 ounce cans)
  • 1 1/2 cups drained quartered artichoke hearts (one 14 ounce can)
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • lemon wedges (optional)
  • grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese (optional)
  1. Bring the water or vegetable stock to a simmer
  2. Saute the onions and garlic in the oil until soft, about 6 to 8 minutes
  3. Stir in the turmeric and paprika, saute for 1 minute
  4. Add the potatoes, rosemary, sage, and water/stock
  5. Bring to a simmer and cook until potatoes are tender, about 12 minutes
  6. Stir in the pureed squash, add the chick peas and artichoke hearts, remove the rosemary
  7. Season with salt and pepper to taste
  8. Return the stew to a simmer for a few minutes to allow the flavors to meld
  9. Serve with lemon wedges and top with grated cheese if you wish