I’m a sucker for the old-timey party foods my mother once served. Stuffed mushrooms were the go-to for her cocktail gatherings and now, as I plan a wedding shower, I understand why.
They are the perfect appetizer — delicious, and satisfying, these hand-held caps are easy to eat. The flavors are earthy, comforting, and the idea of them is retro enough to seem elegant. They’re especially tasty when a few wild mushrooms are added into the stuffing mix. And these are easy to double or triple the quantity, depending on the number of guests.
The key to these mushrooms is in using cremini (they’re actually baby portobellos) that are locally grown. They are darker and more flavorful than the white button mushrooms and, because they’re small, they cook quickly. Add a mix of shiitake (also grown locally) and morels (find them at the farmers markets and in some co-ops), and you’ll have a very rich tasting mix. Mushrooms have a meaty quality that is immensely satisfying.
The best way to wash both the domestic and wild mushrooms is quickly in a bowl of cold water. Dump them in, swish them around, then drain and transfer to a clean dishcloth or paper toweling. Be sure to work very quickly so that the mushrooms don’t absorb the water and become soft and squishy. Next, remove the caps with a small spoon or sharp knife (a serrated grapefruit spoon works especially well).
Save the stems for the stuffing; any extras can be used later in a soup or stew. It also helps to briefly precook the caps a little before stuffing them to help release some of the liquid and intensify the flavors.
Shiitakes are no longer considered exotic and are grown on local farms, and they’re widely available in all our stores. When using shiitakes, remove the stems but do not throw them out. They’re too woody to eat, but toss them into a freezer bag and then use them in your stocks, where they’ll enrich the flavor tremendously. I’ve used shiitakes as an alternative to the cremini in this stuffing recipe below.
To do this, stem and roast the shiitakes until they’re slightly crisped. Then spread a layer of the stuffing on top. Because these mushroom caps are flat, they don’t hold the stuffing well, which means there’s a tendency for the flavors to slip off, making them messier and harder to eat when handheld. But they make a fine first course served on a plate, or a lovely light meal.
Now that I’ve rediscovered this old-timey recipe, I’m making party food for dinner any night of the week.
Mixed Mushroom Caps
Note: You can assemble these a few hours ahead of time then bake them off at the last minute to serve hot. Find the sweet pickled cherry peppers on grocer’s shelves or salad bars. They add color and zip. From Beth Dooley.
• 20 cremini mushrooms (about 1 lb.), rinsed and dried
• 4 to 5 shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, rinsed and dried
• 2 morel mushrooms, rinsed and dried, optional
• 3 tbsp. unsalted butter
• 1/4 c. chopped shallots
• 2 garlic cloves, chopped
• 1 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
• 1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley
• About 1/2 c. (1 oz.) shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
• 4 sweet pickled cherry peppers, drained and thinly sliced
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the stems from the cremini mushrooms and set aside. Remove the stems from the shiitakes and freeze for another use (such as making soup stock).
Place the cremini caps, stem side down, on a baking sheet and bake until they exude most of their liquid, about 15 minutes. Remove, drain off the juice and set aside.
Chop the cremini stems, the shiitake caps and the morels. Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat, and when the foam subsides, sauté the chopped mushrooms, shallots, garlic and thyme until golden, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Remove and place in a bowl. Toss in the parsley and all but 2 tablespoons of the cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Turn the cremini mushroom caps over and mound the filling in the caps, pressing gently (there may be a little stuffing left over; it’s great tossed in pasta or on a pizza). Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the stuffed caps and top with a sliced pickled pepper. Bake until the mushrooms are tender and the stuffing is golden, about 15 to 20 minutes. Serve warm.
Nutrition information per mushroom cap:
Calories 35 Fat 3 g Sodium 47 mg Saturated fat 2 g
Carbs 2 g Total sugars 1 g
Protein 2 g Chol 6 mg Dietary fiber 0 g
Exchanges per serving: ½ fat.
Beth Dooley is author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.