Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Mushroom port pies

Mushroom port pies. Photo by Steve Shanahan
First published Canberra Times, 1 August 2012.

By this stage of the year, I’m a bit over all those stolid dishes made from seasonal winter veggies. To top it off, tonight I don’t much feel like cooking a big dinner. I just want a quiet evening at home sipping a big glass of red wine and scoffing yummy mushroom pies with rich, buttery puff pastry.

If puff pastry scares you, don’t worry. I’m using a pain-free, store-bought organic version. While it did cross my mind to make my favourite Maggie Beer sour cream pastry, my tried and true food philosophy is, if I’m not in the mood to make it, I won’t force it.  When I ignore this rule, it more often than not ends in disaster. Good. Permission to instantly reject the Maggie Beer.

Out of the frozen depths of the packed freezer, I remove the sealed puff pastry packet, ingredients listed as NASAA certified organic unbleached wheat flour, pure butter, sea salt and Otway ranges water. This can’t go wrong.

A standby in French homes, savoury tarts are often cut into small portions, or made as tartlets and served with an aperitif. The tarts are made by cooking vegetables, such as leeks or onions, asparagus or mushrooms, and then combined with cheese or cream to make a smooth filling. The filling can be spread onto flatbread dough or sheets of puff pastry.  They are frozen for use when required and little justification is needed to invite the neighbours, friends or family in for an aperitif and snack.

These pies are great to serve as a starter, but if feeding people for a main, I like to convert it to the grander version, individual mushroom pies. If you prefer to make the small tartlets, use the mushroom filling mixture, just reduce the size of your pastry tart moulds or rounds. If making a large tart, spread the mushroom filling mixture over a sheet of puff pastry.

This particular recipe is delicious and has many different layers of flavour. The twist in the tail here is the addition of a port reduction, bathing the mushroom mixture in a silky stickiness, which curiously enhances the earthiness of the mushrooms. To further develop the flavours, and if you can hold off long enough, the mushroom mixture can be left to sit in the fridge overnight before filling your pie or tart moulds.

These pies or tartlets make a great fast food, taken straight from the freezer for unexpected events.

Preheat the oven to 200c.
20g mixture of varieties of dried mushrooms, you could use porcini and shitake
125g fresh brown mushrooms, brushed clean and stems removed
125g fresh white mushrooms, brushed clean and stems removed
680g packet of frozen puff pastry, thawed
½ cup of vegetable stock, heated
2 shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 tbsp of unsalted butter
2 tbsp of plain flour
¼ cup of hazelnuts, chopped
¼ cup of pure cream
2 slices of dry-cured ham or prosciutto, diced
¼ cup of Port
Pinch each of cayenne pepper and nutmeg
Egg yolk mixed with 1 tbsp milk for glazing

Lightly grease four, 10 centimetre pie tins, preferably ones with a removable base. On a lightly floured surface roll out the pastry sheets, slightly thinner than their existing thickness. Using one of the pie tins as a guide, cut around the base adding about two centimetres to the diameter of the circle, so you have a pastry base that covers the base of the pie tin, and comes up over the sides with a small overhang at the top. Push the pastry firmly into the base of the pie tin. Repeat this process for each pie. You will have some pastry left over for the pie tops. Refrigerate the left over pastry and the pastry filled tins.

In a small bowl, combine the dried mushrooms and the hot stock. Cover and let them soak for at least half an hour. Drain the mushrooms through a sieve, pushing down to squeeze out the stock. Reserve the stock. Coarsely chop the mushrooms and set aside.

In a large frying pan over medium heat, melt two tablespoons of the butter. Add the shallots and garlic and saute until softened, about two minutes. Add the mixed white and brown mushrooms. Increase the heat to high and continue to saute until browned, about four minutes. Add a little butter if they begin to stick to the pan. Add the rehydrated mushrooms, and saute until combined, about two minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

In the same pan over medium heat, melt one tablespoon of the butter. Sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring to blend until lightly browned. Stir in the reserved stock from the dried mushrooms. Cook, stirring until the mixture thickens, one to two minutes. Add the cream, stirring to blend. Stir in the mushrooms and season with the cayenne, nutmeg and salt to taste. Continue to cook, stirring until the mixture is bound together and almost no liquid is left, about two to three minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Rinse the frying pan and return it to a medium heat. Add the remaining one tablespoon of butter and the ham, and cook, stirring for one minute. Add the Port, increase the heat a little and bring to the boil. Cook until the liquid reduces, almost to a glaze, this should take about three minutes. Remove from the heat and add the hazelnuts, stirring to combine. Pour over the mushroom mixture, stir to combine, cover and refrigerate till cool. If you wish, the mixture can be left overnight at this stage to allow the flavours to develop. 

Remove both the cooled the mushroom mixture and the filled pie tins from the refrigerator. Spoon the mushroom mixture into the pie tins, dividing it evenly and heaping it slightly in the middle.

Roll out the remaining pastry into a square and cut four rounds of 11 centimetres each. Carefully lay each round over the filled pies. Fold the overhanging pastry from the base and sides up and over the pastry lid, crimping the pastry with your fingers to seal. Cut a couple of slits in the pastry lid. Using a pastry brush glaze the top of each pie with the egg and milk mixture.

Bake the pies until the tops are golden for about 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for a few minutes before removing the sides and bottoms.

Delicious served with green vegetables and a bottle of Pinot.

The quantity makes four pies.

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