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Benvenuto, Shelly!

July 10, 2009
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Bossy Italian flatmates who taught me about basil and tanning.
In order to complete my food blog trifecta (and so begin world domination!), I have invited my friend, Shelly, to join our little corner of the culinary universe. Shelly, who is not in that picture above, is another dear friend from college and she is a fantastic cook. She is also a patient friend as evidenced by our numerous attempts to cook together. These get-togethers usually involve Shelly politely, if not sternly, shooing me away while she tries to make something terrifically edible. I’m usually just there to prance around the kitchen and pretend like I know what I’m doing.
One of our most successful, but exhausting, cooking binges involved tackling multiple recipes from Marcella Hazan’s “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.” If you do not own this book, then you are missing out. Marcella has written one of those fantastic cookbooks that you actually enjoy reading from cover to cover. For those of you not initiated into cookbook reading, this may sound odd, but it’s actually a very good way to learn about cooking (duh!) and food.
I don’t remember all the recipes we prepared that night, but I do remember making Marcella’s stuffed mushrooms. I LOVE MUSHROOMS! Sorry, I had to get that out in the open. I hated mushrooms as a child (remember, I was a picky brat), but now my love for mushrooms has grown to such an extent that my (future) children will have to work hard to win that part of my heart. Sometimes, I just put raw mushrooms in a bowl with olive oil, salt, and pepper and eat them like a salad. Hmmm, I wonder if I have any mushrooms in my fridge now? Concentrate, Sarah.
Baked Stuffed Mushroom Caps (the words in italics are me)
6 servings (but I can, and have, eaten them all by myself)
Ingredients:

  • A packet of dried porcini mushrooms (about one ounce) I’ve noticed that stores don’t have a standard place to shelve these. I’ve found them in produce, with the ‘ethnic’ (i.e. Italian) food, or with the spices.
  • 1/4 heaping cup crumb (the fresh, soft, crustless part of bread)
  • 1/4 cup of milk (Use whole milk. Buy the little single servings if you don’t want leftovers.)
  • 1 pound of fresh, stuffing (large) mushrooms ♥
  • 1/4 pound pancetta (This is a type of distinctive tasting Italian bacon that I’ve never added when making this. I’m one of those Jewbies who tries, but does not always succeed in, avoiding the oink.)
  • 4 flat anchovy fillets (Again, I’ve never added these only because I don’t like anchovies, but feel free crack a can open if you wish.)
  • 4 fresh basil leaves, torn by hand into small pieces (Okay, newbie cooks, here’s a good moment to point out something that many of us oldbies have already discovered. Fresh basil is 100 million times better, and different, than dried. Yeah, it’s expensive, but skip the packaged b.s. and buy the dumb plant. Seriously, I have a million potted basil plants and you need no gardening skills to keep them alive. Also, it may seem weird that Marcella instructs you to ‘tear’ the leaves, but trust me, and two bossy Italians – see pic at top of post – who told me personally, this is the best way to release the basil’s flavor.)
  • A small garlic clove, chopped fine
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons (fresh) parsley chopped fine
  • 1/8 tsp. dried marjoram, or 1/4 tsp. chopped fresh
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup dried, bread crumbs
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Instructions verbatim from the book:
  1. Put dried mushrooms in 2 cups lukewarm water and let them soak for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Put the soft crumb and milk together in a small bowl of deep dish and set aside to soak.
  3. Wash the fresh mushrooms rapidly under cold running water, and pat them thoroughly dry with paper towels, taking care not to bruise them. Gently detach the stems without breaking the caps.
  4. Line a wire strainer with a paper towel and place it over a small saucepan. Lift the porcini from their soak, but do not discard the liquid. Pour the liquid into the strainer, filtering it through the paper towel into the saucepan. Rinse the reconstituted porcini in several changes of cold water, making sure no grit remains attached to them. Add them to the saucepan and cook, uncovered, over lively heat until all the liquid has boiled away.
  5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  6. Chop the cooked reconstituted porcini, the fresh mushroom stems, the pancetta, and anchovy fillets all very fine. It can be done by hand or in a food processor.
  7. Put all the above chopped ingredients in a mixing bowl, adding the basil leaves and chopped garlic. take the milk-soaked crumb into your hand, squeeze it gently until lit stops dripping, and add it to the bowl. Break the egg into the bowl. Add the parsley, marjoram, salt, and several grindings of pepper, and thoroughly mix all the ingredients in the bowl with a fork until they are combined into a smooth, homogeneous mixture.
  8. Stuff the mushroom caps with the mixture from the bowl. Put enough stuffing into each cap to make a rounded mound. Sprinkle the mounds with bread crumbs.
  9. Choose a baking dish that will accommodate all the mushroom caps side by side in a single layer. Smear the bottom and sides of the dish with a little of the olive oil. Put the mushrooms in the dish, stuffed sides facing up. Crisscross the mushrooms with a thin stream of olive oil, lightly daubing the stuffing.
  10. Place the dish in the uppermost level of the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until the mounds of stuffing have formed a light crust. After removing from the oven, allow them to settle for several minutes before serving.
Buon appetito!
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