I hope that lead picture draws you into this blogpost because not only is it a great dish for you to make, it means so much to me. STUFFED MUSHROOMS PIZZAIOLA..let’s explore that…what makes it (Something) PIZZAIOLA? The SAUCE. Simple. A blend of crushed Italian Plum Tomatoes, usually out of the can, preferably San Marzanos, then blended with OLIVE OIL, GARLIC, OREGANO, SALT, PEPPER. That’s it. It’s used on Pizzas in Naples and paired up with other meats or poultry then baked, and that’s the sauce that makes these Stuffed Mushrooms Pizzaiola (meaning in the style of the Pizza Maker’s wife). While the Pizzaiolo was making the pies, the wife who was the home cook was using the sauce in inventive ways. Ok, that’s what I think happened so I am standing by that romantic explanation. More importantly I want you do enjoy something that was a Holiday staple for my family at Thanksgiving and Christmas Day dinner year after year. These are my mother’s Stuffed Holiday Mushrooms. Only when making them last night did it occur to me that her recipe contained Pizzaiola sauce. I love when that happens. She was Napoletana, the sauce is Napoletana, stuffed vegetables are very Napoletana, it’s a dish that defines my family’s history. AND it tastes awesome and that is why you want to make them. Now is this exactly like my mother’s? Let’s say 85%, I add some other techniques or steps to Mom’s standard Italian Fennel Sausage, pecorino, garlic, herb, and breadcrumb stuffing so this is MY VERSION of Mom’s recipe. There’s enough of Mom’s recipe in here to make it mostly her’s, soI don’t think she’ll be looking down from Heaven on my stove without smiling. Miss you MOM!! That picture was taken by me Easter Sunday 1979 in our dining room..where all the Holiday Meals and Special occasions went down. While cooking this last night my kitchen had every smell of the Holidays of my youth. Happens everytime I make these Mushrooms for Thanksgiving. Even if we dine elsewhere, I make a tray for home. Try a Stuffed Mushroom slider sometime. Delicious!! And the Pizzaiola sauce after baking is further seasoned by the mushrooms themselves and all the flavors in the stuffing. Mom’s Thankgiving table was the stuff dreams were made of, at least to this kid..Stuffed Mushrooms, Stuffed Artichokes, Antipasto, her roasted red peppers (Holla!!),Finocchio on the table, nuts, dates, figs, fruit, Manicotti, Sausage and Meatballs, Turkey, Stuffing, Broccoli Rabe, “American” Broccoli, Candied Sweet Potatoes, Corn, Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans Almondine, Cranberry Sauce..I’m not sure anymore if there was a salad…i’m thinking not…the dinner though would begin with chilled fruit cocktail in a stemed dish..This was as fancy as we got. She even dressed her turkey, booties, fruits, garnishes, it was heaven. Of course Italian Pastries but what everyone looked forward to were the pies…lots of them..apple, apple crumb, pumpkin, sweet potato, lemon merengue (my favorite), Cherry, Mince (no one at that one ),pecan, banana cream, chocolate pudding..you get the picture. If you are at all in tune with food the heightened standard and diverse recipes and preparations during the Holidays is an excuse to do what you are really doing all year. I love it and I hope you do to regardless of what holidays at year’s end you celebrate or do not. It’s a time for entertaining. My mom knew how to entertain, although, she wanted everything cleaned up too quickly…lol. That tradition I do not perpetuate! Relax, the mess will still be there tomorrow. I’m not taking up precious social time to clean up..later for that!
Ready to cook? I use regular button mushrooms for this..why you ask? When there are beautiful huge stuffing mushrooms to be had? Think of all that shows up at the holiday table, there’s usually a high variety of food, some of it very rich. I’d rather serve a small bite than something that could be it’s own appetizer for a sit down dinner. Think BIG picture, not just BIG food.
MAKES 50 MUSHROOMS
50 MUSHROOMS, STEMS GENTLY SEPARATED (finely dice the stems)
1 1/2 lbs. loose mix of hot and sweet ITALIAN PORK FENNEL SAUSAGE meat
(or just one type)
3 sliced cloves of garlic
1 large whole clove of GARLIC
1 tsp. diced PANCETTA
1/4 cup RED WINE
1/8 cup GRATED PECORINO ROMANO CHEESE
1/4 cup DICED LOW MOISTURE MOZZARELLA(not fresh made)
1/8 cup PLAIN ITALIAN BREADCRUMBS
1 ITALIAN ROLL, day old preferably..soaked in water, then squeeze out the water
2 TBS. FINELY CHOPPED FRESH ITALIAN FLAT LEAF PARSLEY
1 CAN (28 OZ) SAN MARZANO TOMATOES OR GOOD ITALIAN PLUM TOMATOES
1/2 TSP FENNEL SEED, SLIGHTLY BRUISED
Start by making the PIZZAIOLA SAUCE. Simple. Crush the tomatoes with your hand or run thru the processor or a food mill. I’m lazy. I use my hands. Less clutter and things to wash, but feel free to use whatever you are comfortable with. Empty it into a mixing bowl. Add 1 TBS. Olive Oil, I like the taste of Olive Oil, alot..so I like a good Extra Virgin in here. Feel free to use what you like. Add 1/2 tsp of Oregano that you RUBBED BETWEEN YOUR HANDS..key technique, you release the oils in the dried oregano..do not use fresh for this. Salt and Pepper to taste..Smash one whole clove of garlic. Add that..Now blend the ingredients and set it aside.
How beautiful is that!!?? And btw, since this is not cooked before you add it to the mushrooms the type and quality of the tomato is very very important. Sometimes you can help out not so good tomatoes by cooking them in a sauce. Not so with this Pizzaiola method. The bright fresh taste of the tomato is highlighted in this sauce. No 1.99 tomatoes here, they should cost you at least $ 2.50 or more. Make that mental note.
Now the stuffing…it’s a Red Wine Braised Italian Sausage stuffing with some additions.let’s have fun with this. In a large heavy pan for caramelization! add a little olive oil. Keep on medium heat and add the pancetta. When that is somewhat clear and has a little color on it add the sausage. Let it cook on one side for at least 8 minutes or until it’s browned, then chop it with a spatula and turn the sausage meat so it now will evenly brown. Let this cook for 5 minutes. Now add the sliced garlic. Resist the urge to season at this point because sausage meat is well seasoned and soon we will be adding cheese to this..more salt. You can always add salt, you can’t ever remove it, so trust me here. Now add the chopped stems and blend in well. After about 2 minutes add the garlic and cook for about 2 minutes then add the wine. What an aroma you are now getting!! Let this simmer for at least 10 minutes. If the wine evaporates before that just add a touch more. This process infuses that tasty sausage with the wine flavor. It’s delicious! OK, take a piece out for yourself…are you smiling??? After 10 minutes, remove from the heat and let this cool down for at least 20 minutes. In a large mixing bowl, add the remaining oregano, the breadcrumbs,the bread, all the cheeses, the parsley, and mix together. Now add the sausage mushroom mix and 2 tbs of that Pizzaoila sauce you made…blend well. It’s ready when it looks like this: Then gently stuff each mushroom cap with the stuffing, just to the top, if there’s left over just add a little more to some. Place them into a baking/roasting pan that you’ve drizzled with some olive oil. Next step…pre heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Drizzle the Pizzaiola sauce around and over the mushrooms, another drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkling of some grated Pecorino Romano. You really have to be getting excited now. Please say you are!! Bake uncovered for 20 minutes. At the 10 minute mark, rotate the pan. Why? I believe most ovens have hot spots so this just helps with an even cooking of the pan. They are done when the mushrooms are soft. Let them sit for about 5 minutes before serving and these reheat REAL well. Here’s the finished product:
A wonderful starter to a big Holiday meal, or a side, or , away from the Holidays make this and serve with pasta..the sauce needs good bread for dipping or wonderful on pasta.