If you see me walking down the street, you would probably think I’m an extremely high-maintenance woman. I love fashion (shoes are my vice), make-up and all that goes along with them. If you were to catch me at home, however, you’d get a clear understanding of the tomboy I was growing up. This Unstuffed Mushroom Casserole is just another example of my low-maintenance inner-self.
As a kid, I spent most of my time scraping up my knees and being anti-social. I was not into pink, ruffles, or glitter. In fact, I still can’t stand to be around the flecks of shiny crap that seem to invade every crevice of its environment. I felt “utter joy” when I discovered that my daughter was 100% girly-girl. Not really. I felt faint. When I’m at home, I’m in oversized t-shirts, sans makeup and elbow deep in some project. Whether it’s building a kitchen island or kneading a batch of bread, I’m a hands on tradeswoman through and through. High-maintenance is the last thing I would describe myself as; selectively-maintenance is more like it.
I created a stuffed mushroom recipe maybe…I don’t know…10 years ago? Hosting parties and dinners in my home is my love language. Developing recipes that are great for soirees was something that became a passion for me. There’s nothing like a well-catered party; except a well-catered party without the high-price tag. Consequently, I had a culinary degree that I was able to put to use for events just like those.
The only issue, with respect to stuffed mushrooms, was the amount of prep work that went into a dish that was literally inhaled within minutes. Sure, the convenience of eating a mushroom cap stuffed with a creamier version of itself was perfect for dinner parties; I just began to grow annoyed every time I made them. Besides the actual preparation of the filling, you had the brushing of the caps, the filling of the caps, the breading of the caps and the baking of the caps (which always resulted in the toppling over of the caps). Too much.
Eventually, I abandoned the recipe in favor of my sanity. I blew the dust off of it this past holiday season when I needed a protein packed app for my husband’s Soldiers. After what seemed like the hundredth Soldier telling me they could eat a whole pan of the things, I decided I needed to bring the mushrooms out of retirement. My solution was to create unstuffed mushroom casserole. Taking the fuss out of stuffing individual mushrooms would not only make life more pleasant; it would also give me a new accompaniment to serve alongside my entrees. Although, slathering this on crackers will still produce the essence of stuffed mushroom starter one may need for the next soiree.
I talked, in-depth, about what a portobello mushroom is in my Haricot Verts w/ Portobello Mushroom recipe. Here, I’m using the same mushroom, only smaller. To me, the taste of a beefy mushroom sautéed in wine and herbs is unbeatable. Well, that’s if you don’t add parmesan and cream cheese and top it with breadcrumbs. If you do those things, you’re pretty much a demi-god in my book. Call me Marta of Troy.
As I spoke about in earlier posts, mise en place is paramount here. This unstuffed mushroom casserole is supposed to be unfussified, but will only be so if you have the ingredients in place and ready to roll. Once you have your recipe laid out, the assembly-line of steps flows smoothly and your casserole is baking away before you know it.
The part of this recipe that will take the most time is the cleaning of the mushrooms. I’m not a huge fan of rinsing my mushrooms under running water. I’ve found that the mushrooms soak up more H2O than I would like- not an insane amount, mind you, just more than I prefer. Instead of washing them in the common way, I take a wet paper towel and wipe the dirt off by hand. If you’re pressed for time go ahead and rinse them under cool running water. Be sure to towel dry your ‘shrooms well, however, to avoid spongy, chewy mushrooms in the final product.
After cleaning your mushrooms, separate the stem from the cap. While this step isn’t necessary, it saves time because they’re going to come apart eventually. Pulling off the stems all at once is more efficient than pulling off one, then slicing, and repeating the process over and over again. It gives you a flow that is uninterrupted- something I think contributes tremendously to cooking without stress. Slice off the dried, woody end of the stem and discard.
Now that you have all of the mushroom sections prepped and in front of you, you can dice. Cut them into bite-sized pieces and set aside.
The herbs I always lean on when it comes to shuzzing (totally a highly-technical culinary term) mushrooms are thyme and rosemary. Parsley rounds it out with crisp finish (and is overgrown in my organic herb garden out back) so I add that in as a sort of highlighter. If you lack one, compensate with more of another. For future reference, when you have a mushroom dish, those are the herbs you want to look to to enhance the recipe.
So, how to get those herbs into the dish? Quite simply pinch the stem in one hand, grab the top of the stem with the other and pull down with the “pinching” hand. Thyme stems are more fragile than rosemary stems are, so they’ll more often than not break off with the leaves. As a result, it won’t matter much if you have the tender stems of the thyme in the dish. The parsley is much easier to process. Just cut off the lower stems and discard them. Gather your herbs together and give them a rough chop. Set these aside as well.
Dice your pancetta, onion and garlic and set all those aside. The only thing left to do for the unstuffed mushroom filling is grate the parmesan cheese. I try to avoid the use of pre-grated cheese. Granted, not all of us have the luxury of grating our cheese “to order”, per se. I get that. The three extra minutes that it takes me using my favorite grater is worth it when you consider the fact that you don’t know when the pre-grated stuff was last handled. Freshness is such a huge factor in the outcome of food that, when you can, you should always opt to process your food yourself. Not only is taste a benefit, you save on food costs which is always a plus.
Prep work almost done, we only need to make the breadcrumb topping before we can make the filling and start broiling! Unstuffed mushroom casserole wouldn’t be the same without the topping. This breadcrumb topping is what I use to bread my chicken breast for chicken parm. It’s what I use to bind my Italian meatballs. In short, this topping is versatile. The recipe as written will make enough topping to cover this casserole, but if you double it, you may also use it for any of the aforementioned dishes.
Simply melt a stick of unsalted butter in a pan and add your panko and regular breadcrumbs to toast them lightly. I love using a combination of traditional breadcrumbs and panko because it gives the dish a more complex texture. Complexity in a dish adds intrigue, intrigue makes for a better eating experience. You become the talk of the town, I am lauded as your bestie- life is good. Add the panko. Season it with pepper, no salt. Why no salt? Because the parmesan you’ll add later will add enough saltiness. Anymore and you’re overwhelming the dish. Throw in some parsley for color and a vibrant taste. Set this aside to cool before adding a 1/2 cup of your grated parm.
Now we’re ready to rock!
Melt the remaining butter over med-high heat and sauté the onions, garlic and pancetta.
Add the mushrooms and sauté for three minutes.
Add your dry white wine (make sure to use a good quality wine you’d drink), and deglaze the pan by scraping up the bits of food stuck to the bottom of the pan. Sauté for three minutes before adding the kosher salt and black pepper. The salt will draw out the moisture from the mushrooms and the pan will fill with liquid. Allow the mushrooms to cook until that moisture has evaporated.
Cook until the liquid has almost fully evaporated and the mushrooms have taken on a golden color.
Add the dijon mustard and cheeses and allow them to melt to create a smooth filling. Remove from heat, stir in the herbs, and pour into a buttered baking dish.
Top with your breadcrumb mixture and broil on low for 4-5 minutes or until the topping is a deep golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for five minutes before you serve.
I often end up eating this unstuffed mushroom casserole alone- even though my intention was for it to be an accompaniment. Serving it as a entree is a great idea as well. This dish can be transformed into a vegetarian meal simply by omitting the pancetta! It’s an exceptionally multifaceted dish. Pin this for later! I know you’ll enjoy it.
Unstuffed Mushroom Casserole
Yield 8 servings
Freshly grated parmesan cheese makes this dish delightfully creamy and delicious.
Special equipment needed:
10 tbsp butter (1 stick + 2 tbsp), divided
1 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
1 bunch parsley, chopped, divided
freshly ground black pepper
5 oz parmesan cheese, divided
1 small white onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 oz pancetta, diced (optional)
2lb baby bella mushrooms, cleaned and diced
1/2 cup dry white wine (pinot grigio, chardonnay)
freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp dijon mustard
8 oz cream cheese
2 sprigs fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
4 sprigs fresh thyme leaves, chopped
In a large sauté pan, melt 1 stick of butter over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs and toast lightly for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the parsley. Season with black pepper, transfer to a mixing bowl and set aside to cool.
Using the same pan, heat the remaining butter over med-high heat. Add the onion, garlic and pancetta and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes.
Add the mushrooms and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Deglaze* the pan with the wine. (*scrape up the browned bits of food stuck to the bottom of pan)
Add 1/2 tsp of kosher salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Allow the liquids that develop to evaporate, stirring occasionally. This should take about 5 minutes.
Reduce heat to med-low. Stir the dijon mustard, cream cheese and 1 cup of parmesan cheese into the mushrooms until the cheese has melted. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the herbs.
Pour the filling into a lightly greased baking dish. Add the remaining parmesan cheese to the bowl of, now cooled, breadcrumb topping. Generously top the mushroom filling with the breadcrumbs. Broil under low flame for 4-5 minutes, or until the topping is a deep golden brown.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving. Enjoy!