The portobello mushroom (sometimes spelled portobella or portabella), with its fancy name, deep brown color, wild taste and large cap, is not an imported exotic but is instead a mature version of the common mushroom (cremini, also spelled cremino) that you find in abundance in your supermarket. According to the Mushroom Council in California, portobello sales have "mushroomed" this decade, now accounting for 8 percent of fresh mushroom consumption.

Since the portobello is sold in a riper form, it is more intense in taste and firmer in texture than the common white version. The ripening opens up the cap, exposing the dark brown gills on the underside.

How to buy:

Look for caps that are light tan, rounded, slightly rough in texture and from three to six inches wide. On the underside, the gills should be visible. Portobellos are sold loose, usually with stems attached, or in packages that consist of caps only or caps sliced. Select the version that's right for the dish you are preparing. Stems are tough so you may not want them if you are serving the mushrooms sauteed or grilled. But they enrich stocks, sauces, omelets and stews beautifully.

How to store:

Refrigerate portobellos as soon as possbile in paper bags, never plastic, which retains moisture. If you buy them in a plastic package, remove the wrapping and place the mushrooms in paper towels or a cotton dish towel in the refrigerator.

How to clean:

Never submerge mushrooms in water; they will absorb it, lose their flavor and dilute your stew or stir-fry. Quickly rinse them and wipe with a paper towel.

How to cook:

Portobellos show up as appetizers, entrees or side dishes. They can be grilled, broiled, roasted, sauteed and even microwaved.

To grill or broil: Brush the caps and stems with oil, season with salt and pepper. You can also brush them with vinaigrette, soy or hoisin sauce.

To roast: Toss the mushrooms with oil, place on a baking sheet, caps up, and roast at 450 degrees for about 15 minutes.

To saute: Cook them sliced, chopped or whole in oil or butter over medium high heat, about 5 to 6 minutes. They pair nicely with onions, peppers or other mushrooms.

To microwave: Brush them with oil or soy, place in a shallow microwave-safe pan or dish, caps up. Cover with wax paper and cook on high for about six minutes.

How to use:

Sauteed portobellos make excellent pizza or burger toppings, go well when tossed with pasta or covering polenta. Grilled or broiled, put them in romaine or spinach salads. Make a ragout or creamy mushroom soup with portobellos and a variety other fresh mushrooms. Stews, stir-frys and vegetable sautes are other natural sites and, of course, they taste great next to a perfectly cooked steak.