Mom's go-to stuffed mushrooms get a makeover

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When I was a kid and my mom was throwing dinner parties, I noticed that one of her go-to appetizers was stuffed mushrooms. The fungi in the spotlight were plain old white cultivated mushrooms stuffed with a mixture of buttery chopped mushrooms stems, onions, bread crumbs and a little dried thyme or cheese.

Those button mushrooms seem pretty ho-hum to us today, but back then they were downright exotic, if only because they were the only mushrooms in the store and they fetched a correspondingly serious price.

Today, it's nothing but pastures of plenty. Go the supermarket and you'll find mushrooms for miles. Even so, as I started developing this recipe, I began with white mushrooms partly as a sentimental nod to "auld lang syne" and partly because those particular mushrooms happen to be the cheapest in the store. Alas, the old standby didn't have anywhere near the depth of flavor of its more darkly-colored cousins, namely cremini mushrooms, also known as baby bella or baby portabella mushrooms. So I went with the cremini.

Technique-wise, I was able to apply some of the moves I've learned since I cooked with my mom. The first is the proper way to wash mushrooms. During the '60s, the prescribed solution was to wipe each one separately with a damp cloth. The theory was that mushrooms, being the little sponges that they are, would get soggy if you washed them. As you might imagine, this practice becomes tedious pretty quickly.

Happily, I learned a much speedier way in my restaurant days. It's similar to washing lettuce. You fill up a bowl with cold water and toss in a handful of mushrooms. Then, working fast, you swish them all around, lift them out, and transfer them to paper towels to dry. They emerge from this quick communal bath clean and without having absorbed any water.

Next, what's the best way to remove the stems from the mushrooms? With a grapefruit spoon. It may seem weird, but I promise you it's the right tool for the job. Use it to neatly dig out the stem, leaving a cozy crevice for stuffing — and without splitting the mushroom in half. If you don't have a grapefruit spoon, use a melon baller.

Finally, I must admit that my mom's stuffed mushrooms were a little soggy sometimes, which left the caps a tad bland. Accordingly, I precook the caps before stuffing them, removing some of their water and helping to intensify their flavor.

When it comes to the stuffing itself, the recipe below offers two options — Spanish and Italian. Each features pork and cheese. Neither recalls my mom's recipe, but both are big on flavor and deeply satisfying. Serve them at a New Year's Eve party and wow your guests. I know my mom would approve.

Spanish-style stuffed mushrooms

This recipe uses Spanish chorizo. If all you can find is Mexican chorizo (which is fresh, not smoked and cured like the Spanish, and needs to be cooked more thoroughly), remove the meat from the casing, cook it in the oil in the skillet, stirring until it is just cooked through. Transfer the cooked chorizo to a medium bowl with a slotted spoon and proceed with the recipe as written.

Start to finish: 1 hour (45 minutes active)

Makes 30 stuffed mushrooms

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra

1/4 pound Spanish chorizo sausage

30 large (1 1/2 inches in diameter) cremini mushrooms

1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion

1/4 cup dry sherry

1 slice firm white sandwich bread, cut into 1/4-inch cubes (about 1/2 cup)

1 ounce Manchego cheese, coarsely grated

1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

Directions:

Heat the oven to 400 F. Use a bit of olive oil to lightly coat a rimmed baking sheet.

Remove the casing from the sausage and cut it into small dice. Trim and discard the dry ends of the mushroom stems. Remove the stems from the mushroom caps and finely chop them. Arrange the mushroom caps, open sides down, on the oiled pan and bake on the ovens middle shelf for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet over medium, cook the chorizo, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer the chorizo to a medium bowl with a slotted spoon.

Discard all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the skillet. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped mushroom stems and cook until the liquid the mushrooms release is almost all reduced. Add the sherry and simmer until almost all the liquid is reduced. Transfer the vegetable mixture to the bowl with the chorizo and set aside to cool slightly. Stir in the bread, cheese and parsley, then season with salt and pepper.

After the mushrooms have baked for 10 minutes, remove the pan from the oven. Carefully turn the mushroom caps over and divide the chorizo mixture among them, mounding it slightly. Bake the stuffed caps on the oven's middle shelf for about 15 minutes, or until the mushrooms are tender and the stuffing is golden brown. If the stuffing browns too quickly, cover the mushrooms loosely with foil.

Nutrition information per serving: 40 calories; 25 calories from fat (63 percent of total calories); 3 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 5 mg cholesterol; 95 mg sodium; 2 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 1 g sugar; 2 g protein.

Italian-style stuffed mushrooms

Start to finish: 1 hour (40 minutes active)

Makes 30 stuffed mushrooms

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra

30 large (1 1/2 inches in diameter) cremini mushrooms

1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage

2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, finely chopped

1 ounce Parmesan cheese, coarsely grated

1 slice firm white sandwich bread, cut into 1/4-inch cubes (about 1/2 cup)

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

Directions:

Heat the oven to 400 F. Use a bit of olive oil to lightly coat a rimmed baking sheet.

Trim and discard the dry ends of the mushroom stems. Remove the stems from the mushroom caps and finely chop them. Arrange the mushroom caps, open sides down, on the oiled pan and bake on the ovens middle shelf for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the chopped mushroom stems and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid the mushrooms release is almost all reduced. Add the sage and prosciutto and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the cheese, bread cubes and red pepper flakes, if using.

After the mushrooms have baked for 10 minutes, remove the pan from the oven. Carefully turn the mushroom caps over and divide the stuffing mixture among them, mounding it slightly. Bake the stuffed caps on the oven's middle shelf for about 15 minutes, or until the mushrooms are tender and the stuffing is golden brown. If the stuffing browns too quickly, cover the mushrooms loosely with foil.

Nutrition information per serving: 25 calories; 15 calories from fat (60 percent of total calories); 1.5 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 105 mg sodium; 2 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 1 g sugar; 1 g protein.

Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks.


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