Burger Week: Mediterranean Portobella Mushroom Burgers

EDITOR’S NOTE: Burger Week continues tomorrow with lamb. You heard me. Lamb.

For the record, portobello mushrooms and portobella mushrooms are the same exact thing. Apparently, the use of portobello is a marketing tool in the United Kingdom as it is the name of a somewhat famous road. The Mushroom Council (and I swear to God that it exists) uses portobella, so in the fact of grocery stores and restaurants that use them interchangeably, we’ll stay with the “-bella” spelling. In the past, I have grilled portobellas as a side dish. The earthy flavor of the fungus makes for a nice accompaniment to steaks and the like. I had seen Emeril Lagasse marinate the caps in balsamic vinegar once and tried that with good results. Seeking a lighter meal one evening, I drizzled the mushrooms in vinegar and grilled them. Served on a roll, these were much better than the processed veggie burgers you get in the freezer section of supermarkets and a lot cheaper.

I realize that mushrooms are not the typical burger. Some may even check for my Man Card for leading off with such a recipe. The American burger has evolved from beef and that’s what this week is about. Yes, we will discuss beef in all of its glory, but until then we’ll take up Aaron Sorkin’s favorite fungus. The pesto goes together quite quickly with the use of a food processor. If you have the time, make this a day in advance so the flavors and sauce can set. A thicker pesto works pretty well here. Of course, the day didn’t cooperate with me and I had no pesto. I had planned to stop after work and buy milk and garlic. I did neither. Sadness is abound.

I picked up roasted tomatoes and artichokes from the olive bar at Wegmans, but you could also use Greek olives or roasted red peppers as well. I’ll serve the olives on the side. As for roasted red, I pass since The Wife isn’t a big fan.

The webbing of the mushroom absorbs most of the liquid you pour on it. Better to use vinegar than water.

Mediterranean Portabella Mushroom Burgers

  • Two large portabella mushrooms
  • Four tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • One cup homemade pesto (see recipe below), optional
  • Assorted cured vegetables, such as roasted red peppers, artichokes, olives, roasted/sundried tomatoes, optional
  • Mozzarella cheese, optional
  • Two rolls

Stem your mushrooms and give the caps a quick rinse under cold water. Set the caps, top-side down, on a clean plate and drizzle the vinegar on the webbing. Let stand at least 30 minutes (you can do this part in the morning, toss in the fridge and let sit all day, if you’d like).

Preheat your grill on high. When you are ready to cook, turn half your burners to low heat and half to medium-high. Set the ‘shrooms, topside-down, on the grill. Cook 6 to 8 minutes on the medium-high side. With about two minutes to go, spoon some pesto onto the webbing of the mushrooms and let cook. Add cheese at this time if you want.

See the froth? It's time to flip your 'shrooms.

Remove burgers from heat. Set on rolls and top with olives, peppers or other veggies.
Homemade Weeknight Pesto*

  • Two loosely packed cups fresh basil, rinsed
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tbsp pine nuts
  • olive oil

Heat a small skillet to high. When hot, add the pine nuts. After about 1 minute, give them a quick shake or toss with a wooden spoon. Let them get brown and toasty but don’t burn them. They should be aromatic, not charbroiled.

Add your basil leaves to a food processor with the grated cheese. Pour one circle of olive oil into the food processor (draw a circle with the olive oil around the inside of the food processor. Turn the motor on to chop the leaves. Slowly pour olive oil into the neck of the food processor until the pesto turns into a creamy sauce. Allow to mix an additional 10 seconds. Refrigerate until ready to use.

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