Did the beautiful photo in February’s Food & Wine trigger the idea, or did the photo resonate with me because I’d been thinking about making something similar already? And did thinking about it remind me of the restaurant that had served it as a vegetarian option several years ago, or had something reminded me of that evening, and the idea come from that?
It doesn’t matter, of course. That’s how ideas are. Yet, as seemingly inevitable as it was, with all the planets aligning, so to speak, I resisted even as I offered myself no alternative.
It was always going to be mushroom potpies.
Why the resistance? I’m not sure. Maybe I was hesitating because I was going to serve mushrooms as a main course, and not just an ingredient in the main course. And would my book-group friends, who would be over that evening, enjoy them? In the end, I went for it, because one of the real pleasures of this group is the openness to our diverse tastes in food and books.
I ran some errands the day of, and came home with a six-piece set of oval single-serving baking dishes. Perfect. Washed those, and got to work. Best to get my parts made: the mushroom filling and the pastry topping. Any vacuuming or dusting that could be done along the way would be a bonus!
First, I opened a 1/2-ounce package of dried porcini mushrooms into a measuring cup and covered with 2 cups of hot water to steep for 30 minutes, to soften the mushrooms and to have a nice mushroomy liquid to add along with the broth.
I heated a large pan over medium heat and poured extra virgin olive oil to coat the bottom. To this I added 1 cup of diced onion; 3 garlic cloves, minced; 1 cup of peeled and diced sweet potato; and 3 celery stalks, diced. I stirred in a tablespoon of butter, a tablespoon of dried tarragon, and salt and pepper, then let it all cook and soften.
I rinsed and patted dry a 1/2 pound of white mushrooms, 1 pound of cremini mushrooms, and a 1/4 pound of shiitake mushrooms. I removed the shiitake mushroom stems…not good eating. And, yes, I do rinse mushrooms, always have, but of course, use your favorite method to clean off dirt. Then I just cut them in half, and sliced those halves, tossing them into the pan as I went along. I let all that cook down, maybe 10 minutes, and then added salt and pepper to taste.
To complement the earthiness of the mushrooms, I added a 1/2-cup of dry Marsala wine. I’d originally thought to add white or red wine, but the recipe in Food & Wine used Marsala, and I decided that was worth a trip to the liquor store. I liked the idea of the sherry/port kind of flavor that the Marsala would bring. In fact, any of those would be a complement: wine, sherry, port, or…Marsala. I let that cook until it evaporated, concentrating its flavor into the mushrooms, about 5 or 10 minutes.
I stirred in a 1/2 cup of flour til it was all absorbed.
Then it was time to add the porcini and stock. I drained the porcini over a bowl to capture all the porcini-flavored liquid, and rinsed the porcini, because they had some grit. I chopped those and added to the rest. They could’ve gone in sooner. I just hadn’t, because I had set my liquids to the side. I poured most of the porcini liquid in, too, stopping at the point where the grit had settled at the bottom. And I added 2 cups of vegetable stock. Stirred everything together, simmered until thickened, turned off the heat, and put the lid on.
I buttered the inside of my new oval serving bowls, including the rim, and set them on a baking tray.
I thought about a biscuit topping, like in the magazine article, and I even thought about making them heart-shaped, like biscuits I saw online. In the end, I went with puff pastry. Light, flaky and…ready-made.
I thawed a package of two puff pastry sheets on the counter per package directions. I put a little flour on the counter, and rolled the sheets out, turning one of the oval dishes upside down on one of the sheets to see how large a rectangle to cut. Proceeded to cut six rectangles, placed them on a parchment-line baking sheet, covered with plastic wrap and put them in the fridge, until I was ready for them.
When it was time to assemble, I turned the oven on to 400°, draped the pastry rectangles over the filled dishes, and brushed with an egg and water wash. Into the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes, when they were hot and golden brown.
They were beautiful to serve and satisfying to eat, with every spoonful bringing some of the puff pastry into the rich mushroom filling.
A lovely midwinter’s meal with lovely, book-loving friends.