2009 February: Get Stuffed

2009 February: Get StuffedThe best part about having stuffed food on your menu is that, in most instances, the dish can be prepared ahead. Take stuffed peppers, for example. There is no way you can do stuffed peppers to order and make it work. The same goes for stuffed shells and stuffed cabbage.

On the other hand, stuffed mushrooms can be stuffed to order (the mushroom and the stuffi ng having been prepped ahead), and so can stuffed tomatoes. To “stuff ahead” or not is the question, and the answer has to do with a lot of common sense along with the longevity of the product. I fi nd that mushrooms that are pre-stuffed tend to get a bit mushy. And a tomato half stuffed with, say, sausage and cheese, is not something that will keep its good fl avor for a long period of time (even if it were refrigerated).

Now what do we do with an assortment of stuffed foods? Will stuffed food work as an appetizer? Yes. As an entreé? Yes. How about dessert? Sure. Amaretti stuffed peaches will be a hit with both kids and grownups alike. Actually, I do believe you can stuff almost anything (within reason, of course).

So here for you to dig into and digest are a number of ideas for getting stuffed stuff onto your menu. Sample them out to loyal customers or employees to get some feedback. Then use a few of these as daily specials to see what customers think about your new ideas.

Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms
Yield: depending on how large the mushroom caps are, the serving size would be about 2-3 mushrooms

16 large mushrooms 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 tablespoon unsalted butter 2 cloves garlic 6 ounces bulk pork sausage* 1 tablespoon ground fennel seed ½ cup seasoned bread crumbs ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley Salt and pepper, to taste Shredded mozzarella cheese

Remove stems from mushrooms and trim. Finely chop the stems and sauté in butter in a large heavy skillet with garlic until mushrooms are wilted, about 3 minutes. Add sausage and cook, stirring, until just cooked through (do not over brown). Stir in the remaining ingredients, mix well; taste to adjust the seasoning. Allow the sausage mixture to cool for 5 minutes (Can be prepped up to this point and held).

To order: Stuff each mushroom cap (mound the fi lling a bit) with about 1 to 2 tablespoons of the sausage mixture. Sprinkle a small amount of the mozzarella over the stuffi ng. Bake in hot oven at 400 to 450 F, about 5 minutes. Or place the mushrooms under the broiler until the cheese is melted and drapes over the side of the mushroom.

* Pre-cooked sausage chunks can be substituted.

Stuffed Shells
Yield: Serves 4 (Scale up in direct proportion)

12 jumbo pasta shells 2 cups ricotta cheese 1 cup shredded mozzarella ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper 1 large egg, lightly beaten 2 teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled ½ cup grated Parmesan

In a large pot of boiling water, cook the pasta shells until they are not quite al dente (they will fi nish cooking in the oven). Drain. Set the cooked shells on paper toweling to dry. (Shells can be cooked several hours ahead.)

In a mixing bowl, combine the ricotta, mozzarella, salt, pepper, egg and oregano. Whip with a large spoon until smooth. Refrigerate if not using at once. Spoon a generous amount of the cheese mixture into each cooked shell, mounding the fi lling slightly higher than the shell itself.

If making portions to order, spread some warm marinara or meat sauce across the bottom of a baking dish. Put three of the stuffed shells on top of the sauce. Sprinkle some of the Parmesan over each shell. Bake, uncovered, until the sauce begins to bubble. Serve with additional sauce over the top or on the side.

Amaretti-Stuffed Peaches It is possible to make this dessert ahead –– stuffing the peaches and par-baking for about half the total baking time. Finish baking to order. Serve with a dollop of whip cream and a sprinkling of some extra crushed amaretti.

Yield: 8 servings (scale up in direct proportion)

½ stick unsalted butter, softened 1 cup coarsely crumbled amaretti (Italian almond macaroons) 2 tablespoons all-purpose fl our 2 tablespoons sugar 1 large egg 8 fi rm ripe small peaches, halved lengthwise and pitted

Preheat oven to 350 F. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter and swirl it into a glass or ceramic baking dish.

In a food processor, process the amaretti until it is the consistency of breadcrumbs. Add the fl our, sugar, remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Process and blend until butter is incorporated. Add the egg and blend until smooth.

Scoop some of the peach pulp from the center of each peach half (I use a small spoon) to create a cavity that will hold the fi lling. Slice a small piece off the bottom of each peach half so that it doesn’t tilt. Arrange each peach half, cut side up, in the baking dish. Divide the amaretti mixture among the peaches. Bake until the fi lling puffs a bit and gets crisp (about 35 minutes). Serve warm with a dollop of whip cream. ?

Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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