Mushrooms – Good Things Come In Small Packages

Mushrooms can so easily be overlooked in the grocery market. Not only are they small, but also a pale khaki color. At first glance, it makes you wonder who first thought of picking a mushroom from the dirt in a forest and including it in a meal. Whoever first invited mushrooms to be part of the produce aisle was certainly thinking ahead. Though they are most often used as pizza toppings or salad confetti, I really appreciate them in warm dishes that make the most of what it has to offer. Comfort, warmth, and mushrooms are all found in these two recipes. I especially like these selections because each has gourmet flair without gourmet effort.

For those nights when you want soup, but need something just a little more filling, Vol-au-Vent is ideal. The rich and creamy sauce is a nice partner for the delicate pastry shells. The combination is elegant and filling. My weakness for appetizers makes Nancy’s Stuffed Mushroom Caps an instant favorite. Parties take on added sophistication with these tasty bites.

There are countless varieties of mushrooms and since most of us are not experts on discerning between the edible and inedible types, I think it is best for us to keep buying them at the market and not foraging on our own. These recipes call for ordinary button mushrooms, but if you want to play with other types, like portabella, feel free. This post was originally a newspaper piece for my weekly cooking column, Cooking Peas & Q’s. It was published in the New Mountain Tribute in West Virginia in March 2005.




2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, cleaned & halved

1 cup milk

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

12 puff pastry shells (like Pepperidge Farm brand)

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the puff pastry shells from the box and place them on an ungreased baking sheet with the side labeled “top” facing up. There should be 2 inches between each shell when baking. Place in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pastry takes on a golden brown color. With a fork, gently lift the center of the shell from the remaining pastry. This will be the lid for your shell once it has been filled with the creamy sauce. Remember, you just want to remove the portion labeled “top” and set it aside at room temperature while you return the baking sheet with shells to the oven to bake for another 3 to 5 minutes.

2. While the shells are baking, melt butter in a skillet over medium-low heat. Sauté the mushrooms for 2 minutes or until soft. Then add the flour and cover to cook for 5 minutes. Add the milk gradually as you stir. The sauce should become thicker as it simmers. Mix in the pepper.

3. Place two pastry cups on each person’s dinner plate and pour 1/6 of the mushroom cream sauce over top. Serve warm with a garnish of parsley or paprika.

Nancy’s Stuffed Mushroom Caps

24 large button mushrooms, cleaned and stem-free

12 ounces sausage

3 tablespoons smooth Dijon mustard

5 tablespoons pepper jack cheese, finely grated

3 tablespoons cheddar, finely grated

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Blanche all mushroom caps by placing them in boiling water for 1 minute. Set aside on a clean and dry dishcloth or towel.

3. Brown sausage according to the instructions on package. Chop the meat finely as it is being cooked. Drain all the grease from the pan after the sausage has been browned. If sausage you are using is uncooked, be certain that it is cooked before proceeding to next step.

4. In a bowl, blend the mustard with the pepper jack cheese. Stir in the sausage meat and mix all ingredients completely.

5. Place the mushroom caps on an oven-safe dish with the rounded tops facing down. Leave at least 1 inch between each mushroom. Spoon the mixture gently into each cap. Continue until all caps are filled.

6. Sprinkle the cheddar cheese over the mushrooms. This will help the stuffing stay in the cap while baking and lend a little color to the dish.

7. Warm the stuffed mushrooms for 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted. This can also be done in the microwave. Since microwave temperatures vary, heat for 30-second increments until the same result is achieved.

8. Transfer to a platter and serve Nancy’s Stuffed Mushroom Caps. They are ideal as a starter or side dish.

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