For years I hated mushrooms.  My young palette had not yet developed an appreciation for the little darlings and I avoided them in every preparation.  All but one, that is, and that was my friend’s stuffed mushrooms.  Filled to the “gills” with creamy, savory, garlicy deliciousness, they are not-to-miss additions to all of her family gatherings.  I’ve created my own recipe with my favorite flavors that I think would give her recipe a run for its money (sorry, Vicki).  As with many of my recipes, though, it can be tailored to fit your favorite tastes very easily.  Swap bacon for ham; replace spinach with parsley, or even kale.  Amusingly enough, what you choose for the filling isn’t as important as the first step in the cooking process, which is a handy tip taught to me by my Significant Other, who happens to be an excellent cook.

Here’s what you’ll need:

24 oz. button or baby portabella mushrooms

2 T. butter

3 T. olive oil, divided

½ c. ham, minced

3-5 gloves garlic, depending on your taste

¼ c. chives, minced

15-20 spinach leaves cut into small ribbons (chiffonade)

½ c. panko breadcrumbs

¼ c. dry white wine

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

½ c. shredded parmesan, divided

Pinch of cayenne

Salt and pepper to taste

First, preheat the oven to 375 and begin preparing the mushrooms.

Wipe off any obvious dirt (it’s actually peat) with a damp paper towel or cloth and remove the stems, setting them aside for the filling; carefully scrape out the gills with a small spoon or knife and discard.

Next is the ever-important tip for the first cooking step.  Instead of stuffing raw caps (as most recipes call for), we are going to cook them a little first.  Mushrooms store a lot of water.  We want to cook off that water so that our mushrooms and stuffing don’t become a slimy, soggy mess.

To do this, just put a little oil, about a tablespoon, in a large skillet and bring to medium heat.  Put the ‘shrooms in with the tops down, so they look like a bunch of little cups in the pan.  Now, just wait about 5 minutes and you’ll see those little cups filling up with water.  Now, imagine all that water sogging-up your delicious filling… not cool, eh?  So, once they’ve filled up with water, flip them over and cook until the water has evaporated from the pan.  Then, carefully place them, cup-side down this time, onto a paper towel to leach out that last little bit of moisture.

To make the filling, in the same pan you cooked the caps in, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and the butter and bring to medium-high heat.  When the butter is through foaming, add the ham and cook 3-4 minutes until it starts to develop a little color.  Very finely mince the mushroom stems (discarding the harder ends, if present) and add them to the ham, along with the garlic, and spinach.  Cook for another 2-3 minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic, then add the wine.  Cook another 5 minutes or so, until all the remaining liquid has cooked off.  Finally, turn the heat down a little and add the panko.  Mix everything together and spread evenly over the pan to toast the panko, repeating the process every couple of minutes, until the mixture feels slightly dry and crispy.

Next, put the cream cheese, chives, cayenne, and all but a few tablespoons of the Parmesan (it will be sprinkled on top) into a bowl and add the breadcrumb mixture.  Once combined, taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to your liking.  Next, spoon the filling into your ‘shoom caps.  Place them on a fine-mesh baking rack, or parchment paper, on a sheet pan, sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan, and bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and slightly bubbly.   Let them cool for 5 minutes, and voila…  A tasty mushroom appetizer even the pickiest of eaters will devour.

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