1/2 cup butter
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped onion
2 shallots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 pound fresh mushrooms, divided
1/3 cup Madeira (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. While butter is melting, place the onions, shallots and about one-third of the mushrooms in workbowl of a food processor. Finely mince mixture by pressing "pulse" or "on-off" buttons on processor. Scrape minced mushrooms into pot with melting butter and repeat mincing process with remaining mushrooms, adding them to pot when they are minced.

Stir minced mushrooms into butter, thoroughly coating them and continue to saute, stirring frequently, until all liquid released from mushrooms has evaporated (about 15 to 20 minutes). Add the Madeira, if using, and cook another 10 minutes until mixture is dry.

Once mushrooms have darkened slightly, add the salt and pepper. For a quick and delectable hors d'oeuvre, spoon duxelles into a bowl and surround with melba toast or other fine crackers.

Duxelles will keep refrigerated for slightly over one week, or frozen for 3 months. Before using, you may want to reheat gently over low heat or in microwave to soften.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

TOMATO VARIATION: To basic recipe, add 2 tablespoons tomato paste and 1/2 teaspoon sugar (if necessary to offset acid in tomatoes).

GARLIC DUXELLES VARIATION: Saute about 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic along with onions during preparation of basic recipe.

HERBED DUXELLES: Stir in about 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs when adding Madeira. Basil is a wonderful herb to use, as is fresh dill or savory. However, a combination can also be wonderful, and one of my favorites is a mixture of parsley, thyme and just a tiny pinch of marjoram (total measurement shouldn't be over 1 1/2 tablespoons).

CREAM DUXELLES: Add 1/2 cup heavy cream and 2 tablespoons creme fraiche (or sour cream) at end of basic recipe (after Madeira, if using, has had an opportunity to cook and evaporate).