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Meatless meal: Mushroom dish is tasty for vegetarians and turkey-lovers alike

The big question each Thanksgiving has typically been simple: white or dark meat? But what do you do if you have guests whose answer is, simply, no meat?

The rise of vegetarianism over the past decade means that it’s likely your guest list will include at least one or more folks who prefer a meatless Thanksgiving. While many vegetarian guests will tell you not to go to any extra trouble, and that they’re happy to graze from the standard variety of vegetable side dishes, we worry that the lack of protein means that they will leave our table still hungry. This simply is not allowed in our food-friendly home, especially on Thanksgiving.

It doesn’t take much extra effort to provide a plant-based protein alternative for your veggie-loving guests, and these Caprese-Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms are hearty, delicious and easy to prepare, even in the midst of pre-feast kitchen chaos.

Low in fat, calories and sodium, nutrient-dense portobello mushrooms are a good source of protein, fiber and folate to ensure a full belly, as well as a host of vitamins and minerals believed to help fight cancer, boost the immune system and decrease inflammation. Portobello mushrooms have a wonderful meaty quality in both texture and taste, which makes them popular with vegetarians and carnivores alike.

For this simple dish, you’ll need four large portobello mushrooms, which are commonly sold in packs of two in most supermarkets. To prepare the mushrooms, remove any remaining stems as well as the dark brown gills to clear space for the caprese stuffing. The gills can be easily removed by gently scraping them with the edge of a spoon.

Once the inside is prepped, use a damp paper towel to wipe away any dirt from the top and inside of each mushroom. Next, brush each mushroom with a mixture of extra-virgin olive oil, minced garlic, salt and pepper and bake at 400 degrees until soft, about 10 minutes.

Once they’re soft, remove them from the oven and use a paper towel to absorb the excess moisture released in each mushroom. If your available oven time is limited on turkey day, you can refrigerate the mushrooms at this stage for up to one day.

The caprese stuffing is inspired by our wonderful time in Sicily this past summer, which was filled with a bounty of fresh mozzarella cheese and tomatoes. I use fresh mozzarella balls, either pre-marinated or plain, and my favorite variety of “flavor bomb” cherry tomatoes.

To flavor the caprese mixture, I use extra-virgin olive oil, a splash of red wine vinegar, a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes and a dash of Sicilian herb seasoning blend (any blend of dried oregano, basil and parsley will do). Each mushroom cap is stuffed with the caprese mixture and baked until the cheese is melted and bubbly, and the tomatoes just begin to blister, about 12 to 15 minutes.

For extra Italian flavor and a pop of color, garnish the mushrooms with thin strips of fresh basil and a drizzle of either balsamic reduction or basil pesto.

With their big flavor, bold colors and high nutrition, these Caprese-Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms are the perfect vegetarian dish for the upcoming holiday season. But, be warned: they’re so attractive and delicious that your turkey-loving guests will probably want a taste, too.

Caprese-Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

Serves 4

4 portobello mushrooms caps, washed and thoroughly dried with paper towel (if purchasing whole, remove the stems and gills)

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil or canola oil, divided

1 clove garlic, minced

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon red wine vinegar

¼ teaspoon Sicilian or Italian herb seasoning (blend of dried herbs like oregano, parsley and basil)

Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

½ cup fresh mozzarella balls, halved (if using a log of mozzarella, cut into ½-inch pieces)

2 tablespoons fresh basil, sliced into thin strips (chiffonade), about 4 large leaves

Balsamic reduction or basil pesto (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil; set aside.

In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of oil with the minced garlic, salt and black pepper. Brush each mushroom all over with the oil mixture, then place on the prepared baking sheet, top side down.

Bake until the mushrooms are soft to the touch, about 9 to 10 minutes. Use a paper towel to soak up the excess moisture inside the mushrooms. The mushrooms can be used immediately or refrigerated at this stage for up to 1 day until ready to finish baking. Bring to room temperature before baking.

As the mushrooms bake: In a medium bowl, use a whisk to combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil with the vinegar, herb seasoning and red pepper flakes. Add the tomatoes and mozzarella and gently toss to combine. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired (I use ¼ teaspoon of each).

Once the mushrooms are baked until softened, and wiped free of excess moisture, fill the inside of each with the caprese mixture. Return mushrooms to the baking sheet and bake until the tomatoes begin to blister and the cheese is melted and bubbly, about 12 to 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and transfer mushrooms to serving plates or a platter. Generously sprinkle each mushroom with the chopped basil and garnish with a drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar or basil pesto.

“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.

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