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March 19, 2008

Meat-Free? You’re Not Crazy, You Just Need Portobello Mushrooms


There are among us, a very curious kind of person who refuses, for a variety of reasons, to eat meat.


You may pity them at your leisure, and they certainly are worthy of it. But, the question must be asked – are they, at some level, on to something? Is it possible to eat a meal with no meat in it?


The answer comes with the kind of hushed tones that enhance dramatic effect . . . yes.


Although there is a tendency to think of tofu as a suitable substitute for meat, that is based solely on its ability to deliver protein. When it comes to taste, tofu is well-suited to taking on the flavors surrounding it, but it is not by itself a main character.


Instead, look to the simple, humble mushroom.


The Portobello mushroom is one of the meatiest of mushrooms, and when properly cooked has a texture and color that is not terribly unlike beef. If you are looking for a true heir to the qualities of meat, then this is the one, and it is especially good when mixed with other things in the pasta bowl.


You will want to start by boiling water for the noodles. This is how quickly this recipe can come together. Knowing ahead of time the law of kitchen proportionality, you will want to select bow-tie pasta, which is short enough to go with chunked sauce, but also not a shape that will compete with the mushrooms.


It would be recommended that you go with baby Portobellos. Unlike their older, bigger siblings, these resemble regular workaday button mushrooms.


Cut them into quarters and sauté them in hot olive oil with a few cloves of minced garlic (the more garlic you use, the more repellent you are to neighborhood vampires, a useful tip under certain circumstances). When they begin to soften, throw in half a diced red pepper and also a handful of raw asparagus. Once they begin to soften, pour in a quarter-cup of red cooking wine and add some thyme and parsley. Let it simmer and cook down. The effect isn’t just to promote powerfully good flavor but also proper aesthetics – the red flecks will break up the appearance of drab green and brown.


By now the pasta noodles have cooked, and it is time to drain them. Keep, if possible, a small amount of the water in case the sauce surrounding the mushrooms isn’t enough to wet the noodles.


Once the sauce has cooked down, toss everything together in a bowl. Perhaps you think you are all done, but you are not. Now, over the entire thing you should drizzle the juice from one freshly squeezed lemon. Stir and add salt and pepper to taste.


The result may not convince you to give up meat forever (let’s hope that it doesn’t), but it does tell you that those who decline to eat meat aren’t entirely crazy.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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