Portobello Puttanesca

I hate business parks. Those soulless tin sheds full of people busily tapping away at keyboards, staring blankly at computer screens. I had the misfortune of being based at one along the Great West Road in Brentford, West London many years ago. There were two places to go at lunchtime to get away from the office – a large Homebase and a giant Tesco. It was the kind of metal box that would turn anyone insane were it not for Gio. Gio (I never did get to know his second name) ran the on site restaurant. A wonderful Italian oasis (does Italy have deserts?) at the back of the building serving deli style, freshly prepared sandwiches and a range of freshly cooked pasta dishes. The pasta was tempting and during my 18 month stay there I saw many a colleague suffer from a rapidly expanding waistline. What I like most was his puttanesca. A traditional Italian tomato based sauce flavoured with black olives, capers and anchovies. Only Gio left the anchovies out, meaning I could eat it.

Having been away for a weekend in Leeds and Harrogate we arrived home to an empty fridge. I did have a few large portobello mushrooms and some tomoatoes that were so ripe that were it not for their skins they would probably have oozed over the bowl they were in. My fridge is filled with half eaten jars of olives, chutneys, pickles and sauces and so I found a handful of capers, some black olives and began to wonder whether filling a mushroom with a tomato sauce would work as a dish. It did.

4 large mushrooms – skin removed
5 ripe tomatoes – roughly chopped
1 onion – finely chopped
1 clove garlic – finely chopped
2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons black olives – stoned and sliced
1 teaspoon oregano
A few cubes of cheese. I used Manchego but you could use mozarella or even a strong cheddar
1 tablespoon olive oil plus more for drizzling
salt and pepper to taste
dried chili flakes (optional)

Turn your oven to 200C.

Heat the oil in a pan, then gently fry the onion and garlic until soft. Add the oregano and stir gently to release the flavour of the herbs. Now add the tomatoes, bring to the boil then cover, lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes until the tomatoes have fallen apart. Season with salt and pepper.

Take an ovenproof dish, drizzle a little oil in the bottom then place the mushrooms stalk side up in the dish. Spoon the tomato mixture over then add the cubes of cheese, capers and black olives. Sprinke a few chili flakes on top if you like to give it a little lift. Drizzle with a little more oil then placve in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the cheese starts to brown and the mushrooms are tender.

I served mine with french bread and a little green salad.

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