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The New Mushroom Toppers

Image: mushroom toppers (ARA) - Mushrooms, a popular topping, are a familiar sight at any pizzeria. Steakhouses offer sautéed mushrooms over steaks and, in a family restaurant, mushrooms might be an optional topper for baked potatoes. This kind of topper, plain and simple, couldn't be nicer but it's a far cry from the new jazzier toppers, which combine fresh mushrooms with cheese, seasonings and other flavorful ingredients in exciting ways.

These mushroom toppers are easy to whip up so there's every reason to enjoy them at home. Melted Swiss and Mushroom Topper is a spirited combo with nutty Swiss cheese and tangy olives that's worthy of any restaurant but very doable in a home kitchen. And, like any chef, you choose what goes under the topper. Mild-flavored fish fillets such as farm-raised catfish or poached chicken breast are great picks. Good-for-you veggies like steamed broccoli or green beans get a lot more interesting when they're crowned with this mushroom topper. And it's great over bruschetta made from slices of rustic country bread, toasted and rubbed lightly with raw garlic.

Mushroom and Country Sausage Topper is delightfully chunky, with fresh tomatoes and green onions added to the mix. As an all-in-one meal, it's sensational, whether spooned over flaky baked potatoes, soft polenta or split, piping-hot biscuits. These toppers go with an astonishing variety of foods, but we shouldn't be surprised. Rich in the savory quality known as umami or the "fifth taste," mushrooms have the power to transform the flavor of other foods.

Leftover topper? Serve it on something different the next night. Here are the recipes:

Melted Swiss and Mushroom Topper

1 tablespoon olive oil
8 ounces white mushrooms, sliced (about 3 cups)
8 ounces crimini and/or shiitake mushrooms (stems removed), sliced (about 3 cups)
1 cup chopped onion
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup coarsely shredded Swiss cheese (about 4 ounces)
1/4 cup sliced pitted black olives (preferably imported)
In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, heat oil until hot. Add mushrooms, onion, thyme and pepper; cook and stir until lightly browned and moisture evaporates, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl, stir in cheese and olives. Season to taste with salt, if desired.

To make bruschetta, brush four large slices of coarse-textured country bread with extra-virgin olive oil. Toast until crisp but only lightly browned. Rub slices with the cut sides of a split garlic clove.

YIELD: 4 servings (about 2-2/3 cups)

Mushroom and Country Sausage Topper

8 ounces pork sausage links (about 8), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound white mushrooms, sliced (about 6 cups)
2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes (2 large tomatoes)
1/2 cup sliced green onions (scallions)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, cook and stir sausage pieces until browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in mushrooms; cook and stir until mushrooms are golden, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, green onions, salt and pepper; cook until heated through, about 1 minute.

YIELD: 4 servings (about 5 cups)

Courtesy of ARA Content

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