At the age of ten, I had a life-changing (for a ten year old anyway) talk with a lorry driver. A herd of cattle, many of whom I was rather fond of, were being transported away from our farm. As I always imagined, like many before them, they were about to embark on a trip to a nice farm in another town. However, to my horror, this lorry driver disclosed to me that there was no farm or happily ever after at their final destination. Now, I did realise where meat actually came from, however I somehow never considered my beautiful bovine friends were amongst those destined for someone's dinner table. I cried for hours that day and the only consolation I could give myself was that never again would I eat meat. That evening, I declared myself to be a vegetarian. I was rather proud of myself, but it was a decision which left my mother with a bit of a dilemma. In 1980's Ireland, dinner options were few and far between when meat wasn't taking the leading role on the dinner plate. I had always been an avid mushroom fan, but their versatility really took charge when my mother needed some dinner inspiration for a fussy pre-teen. From mushroom omelettes to mushroom vol-au-vents (posh nosh in the eighties), mushrooms became a reliable stable in my house. To this day, I still embrace all the goodness of the simple mushroom. My weekly shop wouldn't be complete without a sufficient supply in my trolley. And even though I'm not dealing with any cow-loving vegetarians, many of our weekly dishes happen to be meat-free, and the addition of mushrooms always add a certain amount of cost-efficient meatiness. Mushrooms are rich in vitamins, a good source of protein and a portion of mushrooms also count as one of our 5-a-day, so they really are a champion ingredient to be celebrated all year round.
BBQ Mushroom, Cashew & Sun-dried Tomato Stuffed Mini Peppers
When there is the chance of sun and the barbecue is hot, one of my favourite ways to cook mushrooms is simply smeared with a combination of butter, garlic and fresh herbs, popped in a little foil pouch. They're prepared in minutes and utterly delicious especially when placed on slices of buttery brioche, which have also graced the heat of the barbecue for a few seconds. When entertaining a crowd alfresco-style, I try to keep the menu simple and have as many of the dishes prepared in advance, ready to serve or cook on the barbecue.These mushroom stuffed peppers are ideal, as they can be prepared early in the day and stored in the fridge ready for popping on the barbecue whenever needed. They can be served as an accompaniment to barbecued fish or meat, but they have enough gusto to hold their own when served with a simple green salad.
- To make the filling, heat one tablespoon of the oil in a large frying pan. Once hot, add the mushrooms and cook over a high heat for 3-4 minutes.
- Reduce the heat, season with a little sea salt and add the thyme leaves. Add the cashew nuts, sun-dried tomatoes and pesto. Stir to combine and take from the heat.
- Prepare the mini peppers by slicing through two-thirds of the top, leaving the rest of the top and stem in place to form a cap over the filling. Gently, scoop out any seeds.
- Stuff each pepper with the filling and secure the cap back in its place.
- When the barbecue is hot and you're ready to cook, lightly brush the outside of the stuffed peppers with a little olive oil. Place the peppers on the hot grill and cook, depending on the heat of the barbecue, for about 8-10 minutes turning regularly.
- Serve with some other tasty dishes from the barbecue and salads of choice.
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