Category Archives: Side Dishes

Stuffed Mushrooms

My grandmother used to make stuffed mushrooms all the time for parties. I loved them (still do) and learned how to make them by watching her cook – the measurements for the recipe below are ones I figured out working backwards while cooking by my usual “eyeballing” method. Because I associated stuffed mushrooms so strongly with my grandma, I assumed they were a family thing. When I started looking through old cook books, though, I discovered stuffed mushroom recipes all over the place. The 50s and 60s were all about cute little canapes and hors d’oeuvres, and stuffed mushrooms were apparently a classic and a favorite. I still love my grandma’s recipe, though – it’s just a simple breadcrumb stuffing, but it’s tasty and has a great texture.   The cheese is my addition: it gives a great umami punch. These mushrooms work as either an appetizer or a vegetable side dish. So…both family-vintage and vintage-vintage…here they are:

Stuffed Mushrooms (Serves 6)

2 10-oz. packages white mushrooms
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp. chopped parsley
1/4 c. breadcrumbs
2 tbsp. grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, plus extra for topping

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Gently pull out mushroom stems, leaving caps intact. Set the caps aside and mince the stems.
2. Heat the oil in a medium skillet and add the garlic; cook 30 seconds or so until it becomes fragrant. Add the parsley and mushroom stems and cook for about 3-4 minutes until they soften and cook down. Toss in the breadcrumbs; remove from heat and add the grated cheese.
3. Grease a pan big enough to hold the mushroom caps (I used a 10-inch Corningware). Overstuff the mushroom caps with the breadcrumb mixture and place stuffing-up in the pan. Drizzle olive oil over (or spray with an oil mister) and grate a little cheese on top.
4. Bake about 30 minutes until the stuffing starts to brown on top.


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Some Things Never Change

I picked some asparagus the other day and started casting about in assorted books for a fun new way to cook them. I wasn’t having much luck (I was too lazy to make a Hollandaise sauce, as most books suggested), but I stumbled across this in Apicius: “Asparagos siccabis, rursum in calidam summitas: callosiores reddes.” (Book III.iii) This translates, essentially, to: “Peel off the woody parts, dry the asparagus, put them upright in boiling water.”

I eventually wound up broiling my asparagus with a sprinkling of olive oil and za’atar, but I found this Apicius tip particularly interesting. Obviously people have known for a long time that cooking asparagus upright gets the bottom nice and tender and keeps the tops from overcooking (cook them for 6-8 minutes, by the way, until tender when tested with a fork). This is what I love about these old books: sometimes you rediscover old tricks, and sometimes you find that some bit of cooking lore you take for granted has been around for several millenia. Now we just have special steamers to do the trick.

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DUMPLINGS! (OK, German prune ones but still…)

I love all dumpling/bun variants – even the spaetzle type which have no filling. I am not picky – steam or boil a blob of dough and I will go nuts for it. So, when I got an invite to a potluck brunch and then came across a “Dumpling” section in my 1960s Gourmet Cookbook and found some sweet-savory types I went through the roof. And then I calmed down and made…Zwetschgenknoedel!

OK, so technically I didn’t make proper Zwetschgenknoedel: these German dumplings are technically supposed to be stuffed with fresh prune plums. I misread the recipe in haste and bought dried prunes. Thankfully, prunes are the moistest of all dried fruits, so I figured the wrinkly version would do fine. I even soaked them in a bit of triple sec to moisten them up a bit more (you might have noticed I have a penchant for boozy cooking). Google yielded a number of traditional German takes on these plum poppers: some have yeast dough, some use quark or cream cheese…

The Gourmet Cookbook uses a potato-based dough. This is why I love vintage cookbooks: I’m not sure whether this is super traditional or whether this is Gourmet trying, in its 60s way, to be cosmopolitan – whether this is the German equivalent of a Chop Suey recipe. Anyhow, my dried prune potato dumplings turned out pretty tasty. The one problem was they they were stuck in a kind of limbo between Sweet and Savory. I’d advocate adding more spices and maybe rolling the prunes in flour instead of sugar…and then using these as a tasty unusual accompaniment for a sauce-heavy meat dish. They’d go really well with a red wine-based pot roast, for example.

And inside…

Zwetschgenknoedel (Prune Dumplings)

(Makes about 16)

3 medium-large boiling potatoes
1/2 c. flour, plus more for dusting
1 large egg
16 dried, pitted prunes
3 tbsp. triple sec
1/2 tsp. spices (e.g., cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger) mixed with 1 tbsp. sugar

1. Place the prunes in triple sec to soak. In the meantime, peel, boil, and mash the potatoes.
2. When the potatoes have cooled, add the egg, 1/2 c. flour, nutmeg, and salt. Mix with a fork, then turn out onto a floured surface and knead until well combined. The dough should feel smooth, not sticky; add more flour (a tablespoon or two at a time) if it is not cohering properly.
3. Flour your hands. Take a 1 1/2-inch ball of dough and flatten it in your palm to form a 1/4-inch thick disc. Roll a prune in the spice-sugar mix, place it in the middle of the disc of dough, and pinch the edges of the disc shut to form a ball. Repeat until either the prunes or the dough are used up.
4. Cook the dumplings in salted, boiling water for 10 minutes.
5. Drain, toss with a little melted butter, and serve as desired while warm.


Filed under Side Dishes