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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Summer Sandwich Meal, with or without a Grill

I don't have a grill.

I have no plans to get one.

In some circles, that might seem just, well, weird. I mean, how DO you cook in the heat of summer?

Well, I manage, quite well in fact. That is not to say that I don't enjoy grilled foods when I am a guest in other people's homes. It's just that I never did master grilling way back in the days of a basic charcoal grill (without a cover even!) and my style of cooking doesn't include a lot of foods that cry out for grilling anyway.

I have also learned a few dishes that work just as well without a grill--and without necessitating turning on the oven in summer heat either.

Today's sandwich is one that is typically grilled. However, by cooking it inside, you can skip the step of brushing all of the ingredients with oil and just turn them into a heavy pan for sauteeing. Another plus in this approach is that you can capture all the rich juices on each bun, much like a French dip.

All in all, a quick vegetarian entree, perfect with a tossed salad and fruit tray for a light summer meal.

First the "recipe" and then a few comments on adjustments you might want to make.

Portobello Mushroom Sandwich

For each serving:
olive oil or canola oil
1 large portobello mushroom cap
2 thick slices sweet, red, or white onion
1/4 to 1/2 a sweet red bell pepper, cut in long strips
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 to 1 ounce Monterrey Jack, smoked provolone or other mild white cheese, thinly sliced
seasoning salt and black pepper  to taste
 optional--basil or any other fresh herbs you may have available
1 good quality roll

1.  Remove stem from portobello if still attached. Set aside for another use (or cook next to the portobello cap so it is ready for another meal). Rinse lightly or brush. Pat dry with a paper towel.
2.  Put a small amount of oil in a cast iron or other heavy skillet, just enough to thinly cover the bottom. Heat until shimmering.
3.  Place the mushroom cap(s) and onion slices in a single layer in the pan. Try to keep the slices together rather than separating into rings. If they do come apart, don't worry. They will just cook a little more quickly than the mushroom and will have a softer texture when done.
 4. Saute the onions and mushrooms until well browned. Turn and add the red pepper strips, garlic, herbs if used, and salt and pepper to taste. Continue cooking over medium heat until the mushroom is just tender and the onions are a rich golden brown.
5.  Slip the mushrooms, onions, and pepper onto a plate. Then, take the roll and press into the juices that remain in the pan.
6.  Place the mushrooms, onions, and pepper in the roll, top with the cheese and press the sandwich together. Allow to sit for a few minutes for the cheese to melt slightly. If you want the cheese even softer, you can put the sandwich in the microwave for perhaps 10 to 15 seconds.

Hints 

This is not the time to try to cut corners with soft mushy white bread rolls!
As you will notice in the photo above, I made my most recent sandwiches with "brat buns." When I arrived at the bakery department late in the day, these were the only reasonably priced, "chewy" rolls available. It was a simple matter to just cut the cooked portobellos in half to fit the rolls. It is more important to have good hearty rolls of any shape than to substitute round buns that are like the packaged hamburger buns so often used at cookouts.

Portobellos can sometimes be quite pricey. In fact, today's price, at the same supermarket where I bought these on a weekend sale, was exactly four times as much as I paid two days ago! So here is a thought if you like these but don't want to spend quite so much:  The portobello mushroom is really just a grown up cremini (or button or table) mushroom. Yes, it does have a more meaty texture, but you could slice some of the smaller mushrooms as thick as possible, cook as above, and then spoon the mushroom/onion/pepper mixture into the rolls. Continue with the cheese topping as before.

You could also substitute smaller mushrooms in the recipe and then put the mushroom/onion/pepper mixture into a long baguette. Top with the cheese and put it under the broiler or just microwave it as noted above. Cut into hearty lengths to serve.

If you DO have a grill and want to make this sandwich outside, brush the portobellos, onion slices, and pepper strips well with your favorite oil, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper as desired, and then grill as with any other vegetables.

Feel free to experiment with both the kind of cheese you use as well as herbs added near the end of the cooking. I would suggest a relatively mild cheese so as not to overpower the flavors of the main ingredients.

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And there you have it--a sandwich as fresh as the summer, that really takes little time to make and provides a filling meal full of summer flavors. It is a great option to have available if you have vegetarians at your next cookout as well, whether you cook it inside or out on the grill. 

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