Who has ever looked on a raw mushroom, all pudgy and pale, and swooned? Even those of us who salivate to hear today’s special soup will be “a ragout of forest-found chanterelles”, or the chef’s risotto is one “teeming with wild morels and shavings of Romano.” Love them though we do, even WE can’t call them “pretty.” Their photos, air-brushed to perfection, rarely grace the covers of food magazines. The best we might say for their looks is that they’re sometimes “cute”…the caricatured little stools of toads or umbrellas for woodland fairies. Mushrooms are rather shy, and enormously humble. (Consider their beginnings!) They’re simply ordinary little earth-lings capable of extraordinary delights when the heat’s turned up!
But if they weren’t (by general consensus) attractive when raw, they become even less so when the heat’s turned up. A uniformly earthy brown, their plumpness lost to the broth, limp as a dishrag. How sad. Photos never capture their good side.
All of this to say, you won’t find a photo here designed to entice you into the following recipe. Turning instead to your mushroom memories and your own magnificent imagination, can you picture this…..? A savory, pungent amalgam of chopped fennel, sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, fresh basil and shredded Italian cheese – all those sunny things from a sunny place, filling the cavity of an earthly little ‘shroom, baked ’til nearly soft, a one-bite wonder. Ahh, I thought maybe you could. So here you have them…
Italian stuffed mushrooms
(or – putting the fun in fungi…)
- 2 T. olive oil
- 24 2-inch diameter mushrooms, stems removed and chopped, caps reserved
- 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh fennel bulb
- 1/4 cup chopped, drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 cup grated Fontina cheese
- 1/2 cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup (packed) chopped fresh basil
- 1 large egg, lightly whisked
- additional oil for brushing
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Lightly brush a 14 x 10 inch glass baking sheet or jelly roll pan with oil. Heat the 2 T. of olive oil in a heavy medium-size skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chopped mushroom stems, fennel, sun-dried tomatoes and garlic. Sauté until the stems and fennel are softened and beginning to brown, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and cool for about ten minutes. Stir in the cheeses, and then the basil. Season the filling to taste with salt and pepper, and only then add in the egg. Arrange the mushrooms, empty bellies facing up. Brush their cavities lightly with additional oil, and then mound the filling inside, pressing it to adhere and completely fill the space. (HINT: putting the filling inside a zip-lock bag and then cutting a small triangle from one bottom corner allows you to squeeze the filling into the mushrooms, much like you’d use a pastry bag. Using the back of a spoon you can pack the filling down to make a little room for more.) Bake until the mushrooms are tender and the filling is heated through, about 25 minutes. This is a tasty, satisfying part of a vegetarian meal, or a crowd-pleasing appetizer.
(This recipe is slightly adapted from one first appearing in Bon Appétit, March/2003. This post was first published in cooking-spree, March 2011.)
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