More than 1.5 million identified species of fungi exist in the world, most of which are invisible because they are underground or buried inside dead and decaying things. Until the late 1960s, fungi and their mushrooms were thought to be plants, but plants produce their own food. Fungi produce enzymes that digest their food outside their bodies, then they absorb the nutrients. Now they are considered their own kingdom next to plants and animals.
Of the 1.5 million fungi, only about 20,000 produce mushrooms, the fleshy fruiting part of the organism that pops up to release spores. Most mushrooms are inedible, foul smelling, woody textured, or unpleasant in some way. Some have medicinal properties. Some have hallucinogenic properties. Some are absolutely delicious. And about 1 percent are deadly. Buy them from a responsible source so you know what you are getting.
As soon as you get your mushrooms home, remove any plastic packaging, and store them in a paper bag in the refrigerator. Never wash your mushrooms. Because they are porous, they will get waterlogged, which affects their unique texture. Gently remove any dirt with your hand or a light brush before using them.
Mushroom Pecan Tart
Sweet pecans complement meaty mushrooms in this delicious, rustic tart. Make sure to use a flavorful mushroom like cremini, portobello, or shiitake. This savory tart makes a wonderful brunch main course or dinner with a salad. It is also delicious eaten cold out of the refrigerator when you sneak the leftovers in the middle of the night.
10-ounce box of cremini mushrooms
5 ounces chèvre
2 tablespoons sour cream
½ teaspoon thyme
1 tablespoon pecans, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Extra virgin olive oil
Pecan pastry crust (recipe below)
Heat oven to 425 F. Lightly brush any dirt off the mushrooms. Trim the bottoms and vertically slice the mushrooms about ⅓-inch thick. Line a baking sheet with foil sprayed with extra virgin olive oil. Spread the mushrooms on the prepared pan in a single layer and spray lightly with the EVOO. Roast the mushrooms about 10 minutes until you can smell them and they have released and reduced their juices. They do not need to brown. Remove them from the oven and set them aside to cool.
In a small bowl, use a fork to mix the chèvre, sour cream, and eggs into a smooth creamy sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Keep chilled.
Make the crust.
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup pecans
1 cup salted butter (2 sticks)
½ cup ice cold water
Freeze the butter for 10 minutes. Place flour, salt, and pecans in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the pecans are finely chopped. Pour the flour mix into a mixing bowl.
Using the large side of a grater, grate the butter over the flour, stopping to toss it into the flour from time to time. You do not want to have a large chunk of butter; it should be dispersed evenly through the flour.
Pour in the ice water and lightly mix until it just starts to come together. Pour the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap on the counter. Use the wrap to help you form the dough, and keep pressing down on the dough and turning it until it comes together into a brick. Divide the dough in half. Wrap both halves in plastic wrap. Gently form them into discs about 1 inch thick and 4 inches wide and place them in the refrigerator to rest for 1 hour. The crust recipe makes 2 discs, enough for 2 tarts; you can freeze the second disc for 3 to 4 weeks.
Assemble the Tart
Roll the chilled dough out into an 11-inch circle. The outside of your circle does not need to be perfectly round. It is a rustic tart. Slide the dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment.
Pour the chèvre filling in the middle of the tart and spread it around leaving a 2-inch border around the edge. You may not need all the filling. Sprinkle the tablespoon of chopped pecans evenly over the cheese. Arrange the mushrooms on top of the filling. Pleat and fold the outer edges of the crust all the way around the tart, folding in the 2-inch border.
Bake the tart at 425 F for about 20-25 minutes until the tart is lightly browned on top and the crust is fully cooked. Place the tart on a rack to cool. Serve warm or room temperature. Serves 6.