Very generally speaking, stuffed mushrooms are one of those things that are often better in theory than in execution. Like a few other dishes – mini crab cakes, swedish meatballs, and clams casino come to mind – stuffed mushrooms conjure up images of tired appetizer platters passed at uninspired parties, where nothing is quite the right temperature and everything sounds better than it actually tastes.
A lukewarm mini – quiche, anyone?
Despite knowing this, I always fall prey to stuffed mushrooms – and why shouldn’t I? Mushrooms are one of my favorite foods on Planet Earth (what kind of six-year old was I proclaiming sauteed funghi in butter to be my numero uno? I certainly cannot blame my more normal chocolate-loving Mother.), but in my experiences, biting into a soggy and under-seasoned white button mushroom cap filled with breadcrumbs, cheese, and more breadcrumbs (and a sliver of garlic, if you’re lucky), is utterly underwhelming.
It’s not to say I haven’t had any good ones - I most certainly have – but just that a fresh take on them, where the mushroom is the star and the stuffing, definitely not second string, is not only welcomed but celebrated with clinking glasses and gratuitous praise.
(And depending on how many glass clinks, perhaps even a little jig.)
Like a really great crab cake (my knowledge of which I owe totally to my other half’s Baltimorean roots), I am a firm believer that the best stuffed ‘shrooms are devoid of (or at least almost devoid of) breadcrumbs. Though in most cases they undeniably make a great binder, their tendency to sog-up when faced with the liquids that a mushroom releases while cooking makes them a less than perfect option for stuffing into the hollowed out veg.
Lately, Yotom Ottolenghi’s word is as good as gold around these parts, and if the pictures in his cookbook, Plenty, don’t convince you, then please – let me try.
These ‘stuffed’ mushrooms are actually giant portobello saucers, precooked till just soft, and then filled with a savory combination of sauteed mushrooms, tomatoes, fresh basil, and tarragon. After being generously heaped atop the tender mushroom caps, they are blanketed with thick slices of soft taleggio cheese, and given a final go in the oven where the cheese melts down out of the rind and over the filling, thus binding it together and onto it’s sturdy base.
These are not your average mushrooms. The lack of breadcrumbs keeps them very light, and the tomatoes that cook down into the filling lace the entire lot with their golden, garlicky, liquid. The basil and tarragon pop, and emerge with just enough bite and definition to keep things from becoming one-dimensional. The portobellos are the perfect choice to anchor the filling, as it is more a ‘piling’ than a filling, and they are sturdy enough to support it all without wilting or turning to mush.
I used a local cheese called Truffello, which has very similar taste to taleggio and that same soft and creamy texture and is studded with truffles. The truffles magnified the ‘mushroomy-ness’ of the portobellos, and gave the entire dish, which I served as a vegetarian main course, a wonderful and luxurious feel.
(I’ll give that a moment to sink in. truffle. studded. soft cheese. swoon!)
These stuffed portobellos would be great to serve at a dinner where you have meat eaters and veggies alike – they make a (very) hearty side dish, and when paired with a nice big green salad and a glass of red wine, are satisfying enough to eat alone as a main course.
These will surely be going into our regular vegetarian/meatless rotation. Though I deviated a good bit from the original recipe, the recipe is more of a guideline, and I think the formula could be customized infinitely. Green peas, fennel, chopped asparagus and raclette comes to mind as an excellent springtime modification, and you could easily bulk things up further by stuffing them with cubes of sauteed eggplant, fresh tomato sauce, and slices of fresh mozzarella cheese. Stodgy these ‘shrooms are not, and are a pleasant deviation to the usual offerings.
I used this recipe as a very general guideline, and omitted/changed quite a few things: I omitted 1 stalk of diced celery, swapped out sun-dried tomatoes for fresh grape tomatoes, used a truffle studded version of Taleggio (and used 4 oz vs 3.5 oz, to keep measurements easy) instead of a plain version, and fiddled around a bit with the amounts of herbs (and suggested you can use dried tarragon instead of fresh, as I did). I also omitted parmesan cheese – though delicious, I thought the mushrooms would stand well on their own with just the Talleggio.
Now that I look at it, it is a lot of changes….but I think the end product is still mostly similar to the original (original recipe found here), perhaps however without that same sun-dried tomato flavor.
4 large portobellos, stalks removed
salt and black pepper
1 small onion, diced
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp chopped tarragon leaves (or, alternately, 1 tsp dried)
a small handful basil, cut into thin strips (about 4 Tbsp worth)
4 ounces taleggio, sliced into 8 thick slabs (I used 2 slabs per mushroom)
olive oil (about 4 Tbsp)
kosher salt & fresh cracked pepper
Preheat the oven to 350F. Line an oven tray with baking parchment, and place the portobellos on the tray, gill sides up, and drizzle with a little bit of olive oil. Season the mushrooms with kosher salt and fresh pepper, and bake them in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes (depending on the size of your mushrooms – mine were very large), until they are beginning to soften and are almost tender when pierced with a knife.
While the mushrooms cook, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a saute pan and add the onion and a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Cook the onion over medium low heat for 10 minutes, until the onions are soft and translucent but not browned. Add in the halved grape tomatoes, and cook 5-8 minutes more, until the tomatoes are softened and beginning to release their juices. Add in the minced garlic (and a splash more olive oil, if necessary), and cook for 2 minutes more, stirring frequently, until the garlic is fragrant. Remove the mixture from the heat and reserve in the pan to the side.
Stir most of the basil and all of the tarragon into the tomato/garlic/onion mixture, and taste and adjust for salt and pepper levels (I add a good bit of both here). Keep in mind that taleggio can be quite salty when adding your seasoning.
Pile the filling on the cooked whole mushrooms and top each mushroom with slices of taleggio. Return the stuffed and topped mushrooms to the oven and bake for about 10 minutes more (still at 350F), until the cheese melts and the mushrooms are hot.
Transfer the mushrooms to serving plates and drizzle with a bit more oil (optional). Garnish with a few strands of the remaining basil and serve straight away.
Mushrooms are best eaten right away, but are also good reheated, and will save, covered and in the fridge, for 2-3 days.