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Tis the Season for Cheesy Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms

Tis the season for holiday office parties, open houses and potlucks.  And that means food, people.  Food, food, and more food!   While cookies are usually the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Holiday treats, there’s more to party eats than that.  After all, man (or woman) cannot live by cookies alone.  We need more substantial noshes to soak up all that free-flowing mulled wine, hot buttered rum and bubbly.   We need Cheesy Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms.

Stuffed mushrooms have been a staple in cocktail party cuisine at least since the early part of the 20th century.  For one thing, they are the perfect little self-contained, bite-sized party food package.  This is a highly desirable trait in a canapé. The fact that you can just pluck one off of a passing tray practically guarantees that you won’t starve as you navigate the room while juggling your cocktail, handbag and smartphone.  For another thing, mushrooms are culinary chameleons.  They don’t really taste like much on their own.  But, they have the ability to soak up the flavors of whatever ingredients they’re paired with and become one with them.  They’re also very versatile and cozy up quite well with virtually anything they’re stuffed with.    Well, maybe not Swiss buttercream.  That probably wouldn’t be good.  But hey, you never know…

These Cheesy Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms were inspired by a recipe from Ina Garten [1].  With a few exceptions, she makes them very much the same way that my grandmother did.  They’re made with Italian sausage, onions, garlic, Marsala wine and three different kinds of cheese.  That’s where the “cheesy” part comes in.

So, let’s make some stuffed mushrooms… 

The most commonly used mushrooms for stuffing are regular old button mushrooms.  Look for nice white ones with few blemishes or discolorations.  Try to find mushrooms that are around an inch and a half in diameter.  You want them big enough to stuff, but small enough to be easily eaten with your fingers in one or two bites.   I’ve been told that you should never wash mushrooms as they are very porous and soak up water like a sponge.  Instead, you should wipe them clean with a damp cloth or paper towel.  I’m sorry, but when I see little clods of black dirt clinging to those fungi, I need more than a damp cloth to make me feel better.  I usually give them a quick blast with my sink sprayer and then wipe them dry.  If you’re more adventurous than I, and don’t mind eating dirt, more power to you!

Once your mushrooms are dirt free, pull out the stems and chop them up finely.  This will turn your mushroom caps into tiny little “bowls” for the sausage filling.   The chopped up stems will go into the filling.  Waste not, want not!

Since button mushrooms don’t have a lot of flavor on their own, I like to toss them with some olive oil, wine or vinegar, and a bit of salt.  The salt also helps to leach out some of the liquid lurking in the mushrooms.

While the shrooms are hanging out, it’s time to make the filling.   Remove about a pound of Italian sausage meat from its casings, crumble it up and brown it in a skillet – breaking it up into very small pieces.   I often find it hard to get the mince as small as I’d like, so I help it along by smushing the sausage meat with a potato masher.   I know it sounds weird, but it really does work.

After the meat has browned, add some finely chopped onion and garlic, and sauté them around with the meat for a few minutes.

Remember those finely chopped up mushroom stems?  Now is the time to add them to the skillet too.

Now, here is where I get all fancy!  Take about a quarter cup or so of Marsala wine and pour it into the skillet.  Marsala is an Italian dessert wine that is often used in savory cooking.   Scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan and let it all simmer until the wine has evaporated.   As the Marsala reduces, it will permeate the filling and give it a crazy punch of flavor.  Make sure to use real Marsala wine and not that crappy “cooking” kind found with the oils and vinegars in the supermarket. That stuff is gross!   The Marsala you want is found in the actual wine section, usually near the sherry and vermouth.

Once the wine has evaporated, you’re going to take the skillet off the heat and swirl in some creamy, rich mascarpone.  Yes, mascarpone.  Just do it!

And, then some panko crumbs and Parmesan and Asiago cheeses.  The panko absorbs more flavor and helps the filling hold together better.  If you’d like to make your mushrooms gluten-free, you can omit it.    I’ve made these without and honestly couldn’t tell the difference.

Then, stuff your mushrooms and sprinkle with more cheese.  Did I mention that these are CHEESY sausage stuffed mushrooms?

Pop them in the oven and…Ooooh!

Don’t they look amazing?  I’m not even going to try to convince you that these mushrooms are a “healthy” dish. You can just look at the ingredient list and know that they’re not. But, they are so freakin’ delicious that your guests probably won’t care. Besides, tis the Season and all that jazz. What better time to throw caution to the wind?  Plus, I can pretty much guarantee that if you bring a tray of these beauties to your next Holiday shindig, you won’t have to go searching for the mistletoe.  It will find you!