shiitake mushroom & fontina tart
If I didn’t have kids, I would be using pungent, fruity Taleggio cheese for this tart instead of the creamy, mild Fontina I ended up using. But since Taleggio’s aroma is slightly reminiscent of a humid locker room in July, my girls would look at me with the kind of suspicious expression that made it unnecessary for them to actually verbalize: “We are going to take a pass on this one, mamma.” What a shame, too, because its ehmmm…aroma….is much like the proverbial dog’s bark being worse than its bite. Taleggio’s actual taste is rather mild, with a fruity-ish tang, in comparison to its strong, arresting odor.
(As it turns out, this odor-taste dichotomy is due to the Taleggio’s exterior rind being washed weekly with a seawater soaked sponge, which prevents flavor-enhancing molds from taking over as the cheese ages.) Perhaps in a few years my girls will become more embracing of odorous foods, but for now Fontina it is.
It’s just as well, really, because this lazy version (read here ‘I used store-bought puff pastry for it instead of making my own dough, chilling it for an hour, rolling it out, and then making it look pretty) of a tart was just as savory and delicious with the Fontina cheese. By the way, I found this Epicurious article about puff pastry super helpful. Maybe you will too.
And it was nice to hear the girls hmmmm-ing away as they ate it for dinner, along with some sauteed broccoli, the other night.
making shiitake mushroom & fontina tart
Prepare 3.5 oz. of shiitake mushrooms.
First we need to remove their stem, which is simultaneously hard and gummy and inedible. Just take your thumb and index as close to the mushroom cap as possible and then use your other hand to gently pry it apart, making sure to not take away any of the prized flesh of the shiitake cap.
Now it’s time to wash them.
I know what you may be thinking. I’m a heathen for washing mushrooms…with WATER!!!! Ahhhhh!!!!
If you’ll just allow me to explain…I know many people believe mushrooms shouldn’t be washed because they absorb water and lose flavor, but I wash them anyway – comforted in the knowledge that managing culinary director of Serious Eats, J. Kenji López-Alt (isn’t that just the greatest name???) feels the same way. He says a washed mushroom will absorb a little moisture, around 1 to 2% by weight, but that’s not very much…it’s the difference between leaving your pants and shirts on when the doctor is weighing you at a well appointment or not. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really make a huge difference. I can live with that, and maybe you can too. (By the way, you may want to peruse his article on How to Clean Shiitake, Portobello, and Oyster Mushrooms.)
Now Kenji and I part ways only on one little matter…and that is that I do not put my mushrooms in a salad spinner to dry them like he does. I’m sure he’s very careful and all that, but I feel shiitake mushrooms are a little delicate and let’s not forget that they’ve just suffered the indignity of being washed…so I just place them on a kitchen towel, dark side up, and let them air dry for 15 minutes or so. It does the job with no additional rattling. By the time I get back to them, they are nice and dry and ready to be cooked.
So if you’re up for washing them, a process that takes all of 1 minute as opposed to brushing them or wiping them with a damp towel for what seems like HOURS, place them in a bowl filled with cold water and a few tablespoons of vinegar (to ‘disinfect’ them), swish them around gently with my hand for a few seconds.
Then rinse them immediately, a handful at a time, under cold water.
I have a small strainer in the sink along with the bowl and vinegar because I wanted to make the point that apple vinegars, especially the organic ones, often tend to develop a little ecosystem at the bottom of the bottle. It’s not harmful in any way, but I do tend to filter it out when I start getting to the bottom of the vinegar bottle because I just don’t like those weedy things swimming around with my mushrooms.
Place the mushrooms on a kitchen towel, gill-side down, to air dry for about 15 minutes or so.
While the mushrooms are air-drying, preheat the oven to 350°F and prep 2 garlic cloves by removing their skin, slicing them in half to remove their little green sprout, and then slicing them.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the prepped garlic, 2 sprigs of fresh thyme and 1 sprig of chopped fresh rosemary.
Once the mushrooms have air dried, arrange them in a single layer on top. Gently rub each mushroom cap into the condiment.
Flip each mushroom and do the same thing.
Make sure they are all facing brown side up when you are ready to bake them. Sprinkle lightly with Kosher or sea salt and fresh-cracked pepper and 1 more tablespoon of olive oil.
Place the baking sheet in the oven and lower the temperature to 325°F. Roast for 25 minutes and place on the counter to cool. Now they are not done yet. If you want to just serve these aromatic caps as a side dish (simply delicious!), then just roast them for an additional 10 minutes or so. But since we are adding them to the puff pastry and then baking it again, we don’t need to cook them for longer than 25 minutes.
Turn the oven temperature up to 430°F.
While the mushrooms are cooling so you can handle them, carefully open 1 thawed sheet of a 17.3 oz. (1.1 lbs.) package of a puff pastry on a floured surface.
Roll it out to increase the size of the sheet by around a third.
Then, using kitchen scissors, trim the four pointed corners of the sheet to now create a rounded out square.
Place it on a shallow baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Using a fork, poke the bottom of the puff pastry, where you will then put the toppings. Doing this will prevent the puff pastry from…well, puffing out of control. Don’t poke too many holes, though, or it won’t rise at all. I recommend 4 or 5 pokes at most.
Add 6 oz. of thinly sliced Fontina cheese, the cooled roasted shiitake and 2 sliced pepperazzi.
As an aside, I was reading up on Fontina and Taleggio cheeses in preparation for this post and I must say…it’s really a mixed bag, getting to know more about cheese-making.
On the one hand, it’s absolutely fascinating. The more you learn about the process, the more you understand why serious cheese-makers study chemistry in order to hone their craft. On the other hand, though, it becomes a tad unsettling when you begin to understand how closely molds, bacteria and fungi are involved in the process of making our beloved cheeses.
If you’ve never heard of pepperazzi, they are round, squat sweet peppers native to Peru. You can find them in most olive bar sections of better supermarkets. They look like this:
Honestly, I had intended on adding slivers of radicchio slices and not pepperazzi, but once I sliced into the radicchio I had purchased for said purpose I realized it was rotten on the inside. The little trickster! It looked absolutely perfect from the outside. So I grabbed the second head of radicchio, congratulating myself for having purchased two, only to discover that it too was rotten. The market was clearly selling a bad batch. Sadness for me…but that’s also cooking for you, you just have to keep moving…even when you get a curve ball
It reminds me of a line from the zombie movie World War Z, when Brad Pitt was trying to persuade scared-out-of-their-wits parents to leave their apartment to escape a zombie stampede: ‘movimiento es vida.’ Movement is life. It applies even when zombies aren’t trying to rip into your throat.
But I digress…We are now ready to create the rustic puff pastry crust, which you can do by gently folding the border of the crust over itself.
Continue flipping over portions of the crust until you make your way all around.
Brush the crust with egg wash (which you make by thoroughly mixing 1 egg and 1 tablespoon of water).
Place the baking sheet into the oven and lower the temperature to 410°F. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the crust is nice and golden in color. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes or so. Cut into 8 wedges (using kitchen scissors makes it really easy to do so) and serve. Makes 8 servings.