paris trip and scout 1-2-2012 166
A bin of wild mushrooms at the Rue Cler market in Paris.

My introduction to wild mushrooms came via a Halloween party.

I was fresh out of college, reporting for the Daytona Beach Morning News. I went to the party dressed as a bag of jelly beans. Our business reporter, Charlie, arrived wearing cutoffs and a steer skull. (A real skull. On his head.) He was beet red and hysterically shrieking.

“Charlie had some mushrooms,” said one of my colleagues (who, thank the Lord, had driven Charlie to the party).

“Mushrooms!” I barked. I’d never seen such a reaction to white button mushrooms before.

“Geeze, Susan,” the colleague responded. “He ate some wild mushrooms.”

Well. Naive child that I was, it took me a few years to realize that Charlie’s “wild” mushrooms and the chanterelles, porcinis and woodlands at the grocery store were ‘shrooms of very different colors.

Still, I avoided anything but buttons for a long time. (Memories of that steer skull and Charlie’s shrieking…)

Not so today. Dried porcinis grace my pantry. Bags of portobellos sit in the fridge. Even a tiny jar of black truffle cream from Di Bruno Bros. in Philadelphia stands ready to be stirred into soups, gravies or eggs.

For a long time, I used mushrooms as an afterthought. I’d throw them into stews or maybe saute a few to accompany steaks.

Then I was diagnosed with a Vitamin D deficiency. That sent me looking for foods that could boost my D-levels.

Mushrooms fit the bill. Naturally high in potassium and low in fat, they also have strong stores of the D vitamin — particularly if grown under ultraviolet lights. ‘shrooms suddenly became much more prominent on our dinner plates.

They can handle the job. When cooked, their woodsy, meaty flavor is satisfying enough to carry a main-dish role and play off of other assertive ingredients like rosemary and brandy. Raw, they’re downright delicate and make a beautiful salad paired with thinly sliced celery and a bracing lemon vinaigrette.

Today, we eat mushrooms as often as once a week:

For a dish this simple, be sure to use the freshest ingredients available.
Roasted portobellos make a hearty vegetarian dish, especially when paired with eggplant.
  • I love to roast portobello mushrooms and thick slices of eggplant, then stack them and drizzle with garlic-spiked lemon and olive oil.
  • Stuffed portobellos are divine: After roasting I’ll spoon a mixture of sauteed corn, green onions and red peppers in the center, then sprinkle everything with feta cheese. (These are particularly good served atop thick slices of sourdough bread.)
  • A wild mushroom ragu made from assorted mushrooms (look for wild mushroom variety packs at your grocer’s), shallots, brandy and thyme is delicious served over polenta.
  • Wild mushroom soup is as satisfying as the beefiest stew. Just simmer together shallots, garlic, mushrooms, a peeled and cubed russet potato, chicken broth and rosemary or thyme, then puree until silky. It’s perfect for casual dinners or holiday entertaining.

More and more, though, I’m turning to this tart. The mushrooms are sauteed in brandy and butter until meltingly tender, then combined with eggs, cream and grated cheese. It’s wonderful straight from the oven, served at room temperature or even dished up cold. I’ve served it for clients’ soirees, for Sunday brunches and for weeknight dinners — particularly when the family will be in and out with no set time for supper.

Like on Halloween. I think I’ll serve my wild mushroom tart then!

Minus the steer skull.

Wild Mushroom Tart (The Bon Appetit Cookbook)

For the crust: Combine 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add 1 stick of cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, work the butter into the flour and salt until you have what looks like coarse meal. Add 2-3 tablespoons of ice water and toss lightly until the mixture comes together. Form it into a ball, wrap it in plastic, and set it in the refrigerator while you make the filling.

For the filling:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 package dried mushrooms (Porcini are the most deeply flavored, but chanterelles are lovely, too.)
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 10 ounces crimini or button mushrooms, sliced or roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup minced shallots
  • 2 tablespoons brandy
  • 2 tablespoons chopped herbs (I use thyme, rosemary and parsley)
  • 2/3 cup grated Gruyere cheese, divided
  • 3/4 cup whipping cream
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 large egg

Bring the water to a boil, then add the dried mushrooms. Let stand for 30 minutes, or until soft, then remove the mushrooms and roughly chop them. Save the soaking liquid.

Melt the butter in a heavy skillet over high heat. Add the reconstituted dried mushrooms and the fresh ones. Saute until brown, about 10 minutes, then season with salt and pepper.

Add the shallots and saute for 2 minutes.

Pour in the brandy and mushroom soaking liquid and boil until all the liquid is absorbed. This takes some time, so don’t try to rush it! Occasionally stir to keep the mixture from sticking to your pan. When the liquid is gone, remove the pan from the heat and stir in 1 tablespoon of the herbs.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Roll out the crust on a lightly floured surface and place it in a 9-inch diameter tart pan with a removeable bottom. Line the crust with foil, then bake it for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake an additional 15 minutes, or until the crust is golden.

Sprinkle 1/3 cup of the Gruyere on the bottom of the hot crust. Cover with the mushroom mixture.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cream, the egg yolks, the egg and the remaining herbs. Season with salt and pepper, then pour the mixture over the mushrooms. Top with the remaining cheese.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until the top is set and golden. Cool for 15 minutes before slicing.