The Gaia hypothesis, conceived by Professor James Lovelock, contends that the Earth is a self-regulating mechanism. According to Lovelock, this means that the planet as a whole is able to calibrate a highly complex set of interdependent relationships. These relationships are between living organisms (animals, plants, micro-organisms) and inorganic entities (air, water, soil). In fulfilling this regulatory role, the Earth’s ultimate objective is to achieve “steady state”, in other words to find balance and equilibrium.
When one element in this incredibly complex series of relationships is thrown out of kilter, the hypothesis predicts that a series of resulting adjustments will follow. These adjustments, goes the theory, eventually lead to a revised state of equilibrium, a new “steady state”, into which the problem element has been absorbed and resolved.
There is one inorganic element in this intricate web of interdependencies that is currently wildly out of kilter: carbon.
Carbon is everywhere, including in our bodies. It is stored in inorganic entities like coal and oil, as well as in wood, and released when those things are burned for fuel. Previously, the carbon released this way was recycled through the activities of plants, as well as the soil, which has – or, more accurately, had – the ability to trap and absorb CO2 from the atmosphere.
Since the mid 1900s, we have dramatically changed the way we farm. Most crops are now produced using masses of chemicals – artificial fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. These gradually degrade and even destroy our growing soil. This in turn diminishes the ability of the soil to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. For millennia, this ability has been an important balancing component of the self-regulating cycle. Indeed it is the very one which has allowed humans to inhabit the Earth.
In these last few decades, humankind has catastrophically interrupted this cycle through its mismanagement of the soil. And since we seem unwilling to repair the balance (by for example changing the way we farm back to a system based upon organic agriculture) then, according to the principles of Gaia, the Earth will step in. It will recalibrate all those different organic and inorganic components into a new “steady state”.
We are already seeing this happening. On the way to achieving that new equilibrium, we are experiencing adjustments in the form of global warming and climate change. These escalating changes are on course to make the planet inhospitable to human life. Under this scenario, the new “steady state” will be one in which the strange, fleeting, self-destructive phenomenon we know as humankind no longer has a place.
On that happy note, let’s move on to the recipe.
Char-grilling these big portobello mushrooms gives them such a robust and intense flavour. Salmoriglio, which originates from Sicily, is usually served with seafood, but it works wonderfully here against the meaty mushrooms.
Serve with home-made oven fries and a seasonal salad.
portobello steaks with salmoriglio sauce
4 large portobello mushrooms, cleaned
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
pinch sea salt
pinch freshly milled black pepper
for the salmoriglio sauce
100 ml extra virgin olive oil
juice of half a lemon
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp fresh oregano leaves, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
pinch sea salt
1. Pre-heat the oven to 150°C (300°F, gas mark 2). For the sauce, whisk the olive oil and lemon juice together until emulsified. Add the garlic, oregano, parsley and sea salt and whisk again to combine.
2. Place a griddle pan over a medium heat. Once the pan is hot, brush the top of the mushrooms in olive oil and place, oiled side down on the ridges of the pan. Cook for 4-5 minutes, then brush the gill side of the mushrooms while they are in the pan before carefully turning them over. Cook for a further 4-5 minutes before removing the mushrooms from the pan, by which time they should have charred lines.
3. Place the mushroom steaks on a shallow baking tray, cover with kitchen foil, and place in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes to finish off.
4. Serve each mushroom steak with some salmoriglio dressing.