I’m kind of a food purist at heart, especially when it comes to vegetables. Tending to immediately reject long-winded recipes with an infinite ingredient list, unless it’s all extremely warranted, I prefer to let the main ingredient’s flavor shine through uninhibited. I especially hate it when vegetables are literally buried in a casket of thick sauces, crusts, or cheesy toppings. Gratins? Not the biggest fan. Creamed anything? Pass. [Insert whatever veggie you like – asparagus, say] à la Hollandaise? Just nix the sauce and I’m there.
That’s not to say a complex recipe can’t be good, or even worth the effort. Beef wellington is a good example, my parents’ all-day homemade spaghetti and meatballs affair is another, and my channa masala is as well. But when it comes to veggies, I want to taste every nuance of their fresh flavor before the miracle of seasonality whisks them away for another year. I want to almost be able to detect notes of the soil the vegetable was grown in – but alas, my amateur palate is nowhere near refined enough to do so. The best I can hope for is to enjoy the bristly tone of vine ripened tomatoes in lieu of their boring New Jersey cousins (or are they ugly step-children??). Well, maybe I understate things here, but needless to say I just like to taste my food, not get the sense that some superfluous accompaniment is trying to cover up a less-than-stellar vegetable.
So, it’s with recalcitrance that I made stuffed mushrooms on Sunday afternoon. It was chilly enough outside that I craved something toasty in my tummy to heat me from the inside out. Turning on the oven was attractive as well. Now, normally I don’t eat mushrooms (not a huge fan of the fungus …), but I had some leftover from making potstickers for Saturday night’s Asian-themed girls’ cooking night. I remember how my dad used to make these from time to time when I was little, before my mom developed a mushroom allergy and couldn’t even stand the scent of them baking in the oven without getting sick. They were like little steaming jewels to me, I recall now fondly. I liked their squishy texture bursting hot mushroom juice in my mouth, followed up by crispy breadcrumbs and parmesan. Herby and concentrated in flavor, they were a special treat paired with simple fare like cheese and crackers or maybe artichoke dip if it was a specific occasion.
I don’t have my dad’s recipe, but my attempt reminisced the most poignant flavors of my memories and tried to let the humble mushroom shine through – in texture and flavor, as it turned out. Since I didn’t plan this meal beforehand and my pantry was pretty bare, I had few ingredients to cull but managed a fairly decent list. I regret the choice of soy cheese, but it was all I had (and for the record, I am done with soy cheese – I am dying for some real parmesan and will buy some tout suite). It did the trick in a pinch, but I recommend using the real McCoy. Oh, and don’t bother with the cheese on top – it just makes the whole thing hard to cut and added zero flavor since I mixed grated cheese into the filling anyway. A light dusting of breadcrumbs would have been a better idea. But all in all, these little beauties filled the bill – there I was, buttoned up inside my apartment, chomping down on a warm, rich stuffed mushroom … and loving every bite.
- 6 mushrooms, washed of dirt (choose mushrooms with a flat top that will sit well)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 scallions, finely sliced
- 2 Tbsp finely grated cheese (use parmesan!), plus more for topping if you choose to do so
- 2 Tbsp plain breadcrumbs
- 2 tsp olive oil (I use kalamata)
- 1 tsp herbes de provence
- salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly spray a glass or ceramic baking dish with cooking oil spray.
Trim the ends of the mushroom stems. Remove the stems and a bit of the middle of the mushroom; dice this all and place into a bowl. Heat one teaspoon of the oil in a nonstick pan over medium heat. Sauté the scallions for three minutes, then reduce the heat a tad and add the garlic. Cook one minute longer, then throw in the diced mushroom parts. Salt the mixture and cook, stirring, until the mushrooms soften a little bit – no more than three minutes. Dump this mixture back into the bowl and add the remaining ingredients, including the one remaining teaspoon of oil if you need it to bring the mixture together. Stir well and adjust the seasoning.
Lay the mushrooms in the baking dish, separated, and divide the filling amongst them, spooning it in carefully. Don’t pack in the filling, but press it in firmly enough to ensure it won’t go anywhere or fall apart completely when you eat it. Top with more finely grated cheese if you like (again, I don’t recommend it; if anything, top with breadcrumbs, even seasoned breadcrumbs, for a crunchy hat). Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 15-20 minutes or until the tops are crispy and the mushroom bodies are softened but not shriveled to a dry death. Serve immediately.