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Creative paleo recipe perfect for Super Bowl or cocktail party

It doesn’t look like the paleo diet is going away any time soon.

Of the new cookbooks that have come across my desk, quite a few focus on the eating regimen that promotes minimally processed whole foods, including meat, nuts, vegetables and some fruits, and omits dairy, grains, refined sugar and alcohol.

With all those eliminations, it’s not an easy diet to follow, but imaginative chefs have discovered some interesting substitutions. The staff at America’s Test Kitchen have been creating and testing recipes that use ingredients in new ways: pureed vegetables are used as thickeners for stews and sauces; tomato paste is used instead of wine for deglazing pans, etc.

In examining ATK’s “Paleo Perfected: A Revolution in Eating Well with 150 Kitchen-Tested Recipes,” I think one of the most intriguing recipes is stuffed mushrooms. Instead of using bread crumbs, this recipe uses boiled cashews that are then whipped into a creamy paste. Spinach, bacon and spices round out the flavor. The result is a versatile appetizer that’s hearty enough to include for Sunday football watching and elegant enough to serve at a cocktail party. It’s also quite easy to make.

SPINACH AND BACON-STUFFED MUSHROOMS

1 cup raw cashews, plus 3 tablespoons cashews chopped fine and toasted

24 (2-inch-wide) white mushrooms, stemmed

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and pepper

3 slices bacon, chopped fine

1 onion, chopped fine

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or ¼ teaspoon dried thyme

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

6 ounces (6 cups) baby spinach

1. Bring 4 cups water to boil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add cashews and cook until softened, about 15 minutes. Drain and rinse well.

2. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Toss mushroom caps with 2 tablespoons oil and season with salt and pepper. Lay mushrooms gill side down on plate lined with two layers of coffee filters. Microwave mushrooms until they release their moisture and shrink in size, about 10 minutes. Flip caps gill side up and transfer to aluminum foil-lined rimmed baking sheet.

3. Cook bacon in 12-inch skillet over medium heat until crisp, 5 to 7 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towel-lined bowl.

4. Add onion, 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper to fat left in skillet and cook over medium heat until softened and lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in garlic, thyme, and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in spinach, 1 handful at a time, and cook until wilted and dry, about 4 minutes; remove from heat.

5. Process boiled cashews and remaining 2 tablespoons oil in food processor until smooth, about 2 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add spinach mixture and pulse until spinach is coarsely chopped, about 10 pulses. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

6. Spoon spinach mixture into mushroom caps and sprinkle with crisp bacon and toasted cashews. (Stuffed mushrooms can be held at room temperature for up to 2 hours.) Bake mushrooms until heated through. 10 to 12 minutes. Serve.

Our assessment: These stuffed mushrooms are flavorful, and the toasted cashews and bacon provide a welcoming texture. Be sure that the mushroom caps start out 2 inches across. They certainly do shrink a lot in the cooking process. I didn’t have coffee filters, so I used paper towels instead.

From the book: “Paleo Perfected: A Revolution in Eating Well with 150 Kitchen-Tested Recipes” by America’s Test Kitchen; 344 pages, $26.95. Published by America’s Test Kitchen, 2016.

What you get: This collection of recipes will help you explore the paleo lifestyle. Chapters cover appetizers and snacks; breakfast favorites; poultry; beef, pork, lamb and more; seafood; vegetable mains and vegetable sides. There’s also a handy introduction on how to get started with the paleo diet.

In their own words: “(A)lthough we don’t usually concern ourselves with ‘diets’ in the traditional sense of the word, there was something about the paleo diet that intrigued us – the focus on whole foods, the emphasis on cutting out processed junk food, and the importance of cooking at home. The widespread popularity of paleo made us think that this was more than just a trend. And as with many diet-oriented books, there seemed to be room for the test kitchen to contribute and add value.” — the editors at America’s Test Kitchen

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