I have been straying from my usual obsessive-compulsive menu-planning tendencies in favor of more spontaneous meals, mostly because I’ve had too much going on recently to be so anal about it all, but also due to the fact that it’s much easier to go with the flow during the late summer months when there are still so many fresh vegetables to play around with. After all, who wants to be all fussy about everything when you can so easily throw together a veggie plate and let the just-picked flavors shine on their own?
I had vaguely planned to do something with spaghetti squash today, but alas, my order from Athens Locally Grown yesterday was short both the crook-neck squash and the spaghetti squash. And somehow, some way, I had finally gotten to the bottom of my piles of potatoes, green beans, zucchini and tomatoes. I don’t know how that happened exactly.
Even the fridge was kind of bare for the first time in months. As usual, there was ample variety in the cheese drawer, and I was still up to my gills in fresh herbs, but other than those anomalies, I was mostly sitting on milk and soy milk, half a block of tofu, butter, flour, some frozen vegetables, a rock-hard hind end of a baguette, and an unexplainable big ole’ package of button mushrooms. After some initial head-scratching and a minor anxiety attack, brought on in no small part by the eleven-month-old who kept trying to dump over my mop bucket, I decided my only possible recourse was to stuff those mushrooms into submission (they were, after all, in MY fridge) and to serve them with a couple of simple tomato, mozzarella and basil pizzas. Never mind that I had to thaw and crush the tomatoes that I had just frozen last week in order to make it happen.
Eating tomatoes that were just frozen a week ago. The absurdity…
The stuffed mushrooms are one of my favorite cocktail-party appetizers. Not that I go to a lot of cocktail parties. Okay, not that I go to any parties. I really need to get out more.
Anyhow, about those stuffed mushrooms. When The Big Boy was 18 months old or so, I would sit in the snuggle chair with him after lunch every day to rock him to sleep for his nap, and I would often turn on The Food Network for a few minutes. It got to be our little routine, and he would ask me adorable questions about the food that was being featured or about the host of the show. Since we stuck to our schedule like glue, it turned out that we sat down just as Everyday Italian came on each day. The Big Boy (then better known as Odd Toddler) developed quite the crush on Giada De Laurentiis, and I ended up with a plethora of her recipes in my repertoire. I was still learning to cook (still am, actually) at the time and Giada became my mentor.
I kind of miss those days now that I think about it. I rarely watch cooking shows any more, and those days of The Big Boy nodding off to sleep with his sweet head on my shoulders are long gone.
Actually, that's not entirely true. He fell asleep with his head on my shoulder just last night, but we were both wedged into his little toddler bed at the time and I was spectacularly uncomfortable.
The stuffed mushroom recipe that I use to this day came from one of those Everyday Italian episodes. I remember wanting to jump through the TV when I first watched Giada make them, and I believe I ended up at the grocery store that very afternoon so that I could get the ingredients to cook them for the first time myself. The mushrooms become tender and rich as they cook, while still retaining that beautiful earthy flavor that makes them so addictive, and the filling is fabulously complex with contradictory textures (oh, those crispy breadcrumbs) and a sharp cheese that is balanced by fresh herbs. I love them.
STUFFED MUSHROOMS (adapted from Giada De Laurentiis, makes about 25 mushrooms)
- 1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs (the perfect use for a rock-hard hind end of a forgotten baguette)
- 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 Tbs chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 Tbs chopped fresh mint leaves
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 4 to 5 Tbs olive oil, divided
- 25 or so large white mushrooms, stemmed
- In a medium bowl, stir together the bread crumbs, Pecorino Romano, garlic, parsley, mint, a pinch of salt, a grind or two of pepper, and 2 Tbs olive oil. Taste and add more salt & pepper if needed.
- Brush a large heavy baking sheet with a little bit of olive oil.
- Spoon a little of the filling into the cavity of each of the mushrooms and arrange on the baking sheet.
- Drizzle another Tbs or so of olive oil over the mushrooms (do not do this ahead of time or the mushrooms will become soggy and bland-tasting).
- Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until mushrooms are heated through and the filling is crispy and golden.