Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Creamy portobellos on toast

On busy days, I like to be able to rustle up an evening meal very quickly. My aim is 30 minutes or under, but if I can do it in 10 minutes that's even better. At the moment I'm craving simplicity because I've had several meals out this week with friends - one was a heavily meat-laden grill which I still feel bloated from, another had a decadently rich pudding of the sort I only indulge in once a year. So something quick, plain and simple was key for this supper. And as the weather turns nippy, something comforting also ticks the right boxes.

When I was a child my mother would shop every day for fresh food and she often came home with huge, flat portobello mushrooms that she would turn into a quick tea by serving them on toast. What I liked most were the copious black juices that would soak into the toast and turn the crispy bread into a soaking, dark mass rich with the flavour of the mushrooms. Whenever I buy portobello mushrooms, it's pretty much guaranteed what I will do with them.

I usually add some greens alongside the mushrooms, to give the dish an extra lift as well as provide some of my five a day. On my latest trip to the shops, I found some late-season purple sprouting broccoli, which stirred some excitement. I'm no fan of the more common calabrese broccoli, which I find largely tasteless and prone to turning quickly into soggy mess, but I adore purple sprouting which has a finer flavour and is less inclined to turn into mush if you take eye off it for a few seconds. 

What you need: 
2 portobello mushrooms
A little unsalted butter
A generous tablespoon of half-fat crème fraîche
2 slices of wholemeal bread
A pinch of fresh thyme leaves
6 spears of purple sprouting broccoli

What to do:
Melt a generous knob of butter in a small non-stick saucepan over a moderate heat. Slice the mushrooms into 3-4 strips then cut the strips into chunks. When the butter starts to froth and sizzle, toss in the mushrooms and stir with a wooden spoon to ensure they are all coated with the fat. Turn the heat down slightly and let the mushrooms cook. Meanwhile, pop the bread in the toaster and put the broccoli on to cook - you can steam it for around 6 minutes but I usually put half an inch of water into a pan, bring it to the boil, throw in the spears, jam a lid on and give them around 3-4 minutes, so they are still al dente.

The mushrooms are cooked when the pan is full of black juices. Turn the heat down as far as you can and add the crème fraîche and stir it through. Add the fresh thyme leaves and season with black pepper to taste (and salt if you used unsalted butter). Put the toast slices on the plate and tip the mushrooms onto them, spreading them out so the juices cover the bread. Serve the broccoli alongside.

Cook's tips: 
Timing is most critical for the broccoli. Get your pan on in good time. If the toast is ready before the broccoli, just leave it in the toaster, where it will stay warm for several minutes. Likewise, just turn off the heat under the mushrooms if you need to. 

I don't bother to butter the toast - there is already butter in the mushrooms, plus the crème fraîche and the juice from the mushrooms, which is plenty.

Lemon thyme, if you have some, works even better than plain thyme as the citrus notes help cut through the richness of the sauce. If you don't have any fresh thyme a tiny pinch of the dried variety will do, but add it earlier so it has a chance to soften during the cooking and release its flavour fully.

You can use any greens if purple sprouting broccoli is out of season - a little stir-fried kale or spring greens are a good substitute. If you use late-season purple sprouting, be sure to trim the stems well as they can be woody - you may need to cut off 3-4cm.