Bursting mushrooms

A perfect Shavuot appetizer for any milk meal.

stuffed mushrooms 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
stuffed mushrooms 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Large stuffed mushrooms were a highlight at a recent Chinese dim sum meal (a brunch of small, appetizer-like dishes) I enjoyed. Unlike other stuffed mushrooms I had in the past, these were topped with a generous mound of savory seafood stuffing, and the result was very tasty indeed. Americans often use bread-crumb stuffings in mushrooms and although they can be good, sometimes the result is bland. When stuffing mushrooms, it's good to keep in mind that the stuffing also needs to flavor the mushroom. Sometimes it's simply a question of seasoning such stuffings with enough salt and pepper. Adding sauteed onions or garlic or a generous amount of fresh herbs such as thyme, tarragon or sage also enhances the flavor of bread-based stuffings. To stuff the mushroom caps, you need to remove the stems. But do not discard them. Chop them and add them to the stuffing to reinforce the mushroom's flavor. They'll contribute an especially good taste if you saute them before combining them with the other elements of the stuffing. This is a popular custom in regions known for the quality of their mushroom dishes. Italian cooks vary bread stuffings by stirring in not only sauteed onions, garlic and mushroom stems, but chopped anchovies or olives as well. Anne Volokh, author of The Art of Russian Cuisine, makes the stuffing for her mushrooms from the stems sauteed with onions in butter, then enriched with sour cream and flavored with a little mustard. The stuffed mushrooms are sprinkled with bread crumbs and dotted with butter, then baked until the crumbs are golden. For a Polish variation, Alina Zeranska, author of The Art of Polish Cooking, begins her stuffing in a similar way, adding the chopped stems to butter-sauteed onions, but tops her stuffed mushrooms with grated cheese, which browns in the oven as they bake. For a more pungent cheese flavor, Jack Czarnecki, author of Joe's Book of Mushroom Cookery, stirs pieces of Roquefort cheese into a filling of sauteed chopped mushrooms. In another twist on the technique, he stuffs jumbo white mushrooms with butter-sauteed minced shiitake mushrooms accented with garlic and shallots, then crowns each with a slice of yellow cheese before baking. For hearty stuffings, meat is a popular component, in the form of smoked meat, sausage or ground meat. La Mazille, author of La Bonne Cuisine du Perigord, a book on southwest French cuisine, stuffs wild mushrooms with fresh ground meat or salt-cured meat mixed with garlic, chopped mushroom stems, parsley, seasoning, bread crumbs and egg. The mushrooms cook in a casserole that is rubbed with garlic and greased generously with walnut oil, and are basted with white wine to keep the stuffing moist. Chopped cooked spinach or other green vegetables also make lively stuffings for mushrooms, on their own or combined with bread stuffings. For a dairy meal, I like to enhance such mixtures with ricotta and Parmesan cheese. If you're making a parve stuffing from vegetables, you can enrich it with chopped nuts as well as sauteed onions. SPINACH STUFFED MUSHROOMS These stuffed mushrooms have a vivid-green, flavorful nutmeg scented spinach filling enriched with two kinds of cheese. You can serve them as a party dish, an appetizer for a dairy dinner or as an accompaniment for baked fish. 1.5 kg. spinach bunches, stems removed, leaves rinsed well, or 800 gr. packaged cleaned spinach leaves or frozen spinach leaves 450 gr. large mushrooms, rinsed briefly and patted dry 3 Tbsp. butter 2 large green onions or shallots, minced 1⁄4 cup heavy cream or milk 1⁄2 cup ricotta cheese 6 to 8 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese salt and freshly ground pepper Freshly grated nutmeg Add spinach to a large pot of enough boiling salted water to cover it generously and cook uncovered over high heat about 2 minutes or until wilted. Drain, rinse with cold water and drain well. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Puree in food processor or chop with large knife until very fine. Remove mushroom stems and chop them fine. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet. Add green onions and chopped mushroom stems and cook over low heat about 2 minutes or until tender. Add spinach and a pinch of salt and pepper and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in cream and heat until it is absorbed by spinach. Transfer to a bowl and cool. Stir in ricotta and 4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Preheat oven to 190º. Put mushroom caps, rounded side down, in a lightly oiled shallow baking dish. Sprinkle them lightly with salt and pepper. Fill each generously with spinach filling. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake stuffed mushrooms for 10 to 15 minutes, or until mushrooms are tender and filling is hot. Serve hot or warm. Makes 4 to 6 servings. Faye Levy is the author of the three-volume Fresh from France series and Aruhot Halaviot (dairy meals) in Hebrew.