On Ryan’s Plate: Take This Mushroom and Stuff It
Hi friends! I came home from class last night to find Ryan hard at work in the kitchen:
I’m telling you, he’s really taking these On Ryan’s Plate posts to the next level! Without further ado…
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Tonight’s dinner of stuffed portabella mushrooms and fettuccine with broccoli required not one, not two, not three, but all four burners running on full blast:
Cooking wise, keeping track of this many pots and pans is a stretch for me. But thinking about the meal, the real stretch is represented by my full scale embrace of a food I once despised.
Let’s take a trip back in time, to the halcyon days of 1998, a simpler era when the double whammy of Armageddon/Deep Impact gripped the nation with asteroid fever, and the R&B group Next titillated us with a saucy ditty about getting real excited, dancing “Too Close.” A naïve, fresh faced Ryan Weber was ready to leave the cushy nest of home and settle into a slightly larger, slightly cushier nest of Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. Pepperdine was a new, strange, refined world, with a Films of Mel Gibson class and a shuttle for students who couldn’t muster the five minute walk to class (Tia and Tamera Mowery, I’m talking to you).
But to be honest, despite being a sophisticated, jean shorts-wearing, Austin Powers-quoting 18 year old, I didn’t fully appreciate all the finery that Pepperdine had to offer, especially when it came to the cafeteria. Our cafeteria was newly remodeled, and they spared no expense adding touches that absolutely no college student will appreciate, offering dishes like Corn and Pablano cakes and Tom Kai Gai soup served by chefs who beautifully plated every meal with a lovingly-placed sprig of parsley (I’m pretty sure one students’ tuition went solely to fund the school’s annual parsley supply). While the cafeteria might have been a foodie’s dream, most college students just want a normal meal, like three day old pizza or a hamburger patty dipped in chili shoved between two grilled cheese sandwiches.
The foodie detail that I appreciate least was the cafeteria’s offering of portabella mushrooms (see, this post is coming back around to its main topic). Every day while I waited in line for my cheeseburger like a red-blooded American, the chefs tried to pawn portabella mushrooms on us, and I had never seen anything more disgusting. Who would voluntarily ingest a giant fungus still caked in dirt? At that point, why not just eat some mold? (Actually, considering the cleanliness level of my college apartment kitchen, I probably ate a significant amount of mold during those years). A portabella? No thank you, sir. I will take the dinosaur chicken nuggets with a side of tater tots, please.
But tastes change. You grow up. Eventually, you throw away the jean shorts (well, Anna threw those away) and you realize Austin Powers isn’t funny anymore (well, most of us do). And in the past few years, I have surprised myself by coming to love portabella mushrooms. Frequently, I have chosen one over my once beloved cheeseburger. A few weeks ago when Anna was out of town, instead of reverting to my bachelor eating habits, I actually made a portabella burger for myself. Somewhere, those Pepperdine chefs are smiling while they cook a delicious ricotta mac and cheese for some 19 year old jackass who asks if this is the kind of macaroni that comes in the blue box.
Tonight’s recipe perfectly illustrate why I’ve come to love portabellas. They’re meaty and filling yet mild, satisfying on their own but a perfect vehicle for all kinds of stuffing – in tonight’s case, onions, garlic, tomatoes, bread crumbs, mozzarella, and yes, parsley. And the mushrooms pair well with the side of fettuccine and broccoli in homemade alfredo sauce.