How did I get from reading someone’s personal blog to making a mushroom tart from her recently-released cookbook? Well, it’s a journey spanning slightly less than a decade. Yes, it’s been that long.
I remember a friend of mine, some time ago, telling me about this blog called Smitten. “Go,” she said, “The writing is hilarious, and I think you’ll love it.” I did and she was right—the writing was punchy and pithy, and its author not only made me laugh, but recognize my own erratic life in the big city. The blog was written by Deb Rothberg, a twenty-something, and the topics ranged from suffering through horrible dates to drinking bourbon on a cold wintry night. Being eerily familiar with the former, and quite enjoying the latter, Deb Rothberg was my kind of lady.
Along the way, Deb met a man named Alex, who sounded pretty awesome and (unlike most New York men) totally normal. He knew a good thing when he had it and which side his bread was buttered on, and in time he even put a ring on it. And then the chronicles of their newlywed year were documented with great hilarity on iVillage, which of course, I also read.
At some point Deb decided that personal blogging, for her, hit a plateau, and something new had to happen. She ruminated, she plotted, and finally, Smitten Kitchen, a blog which we all now know, and love, emerged. I’m pretty sure that by the time I met Deb in person, her blog was already making many people hungry. For a little while, we even lived a mere block away from one another—a happy coincidence.
Anyway, the rest, as you all know who read Deb’s blog, is history. Deb has an eye for a great recipe and she consistently raises the bar. At first the recipes on her blog were adaptations from magazines, cookbooks, and other blogs, but as Deb grew as a cook, more and more original material emerged. Each recipe—delicious; and each—carefully tested and documented with Deb’s meticulous hand and eyes. When you make her recipes, you know that they will work. Getting in the kitchen can be very daunting, and Deb tries to make it less so.
And now, after we’ve all waited a few years since the initial announcement, Deb has written a cookbook—and what a joy it is to read. I was lucky enough to test some recipes in the book (thank you, Deb, for trusting me) – and they were all delicious, thoroughly tested, and fun to make. When I read through the book, I wanted to make something I hadn’t made during testing, and my eyes (and apparently my husband’s too) stopped on a gorgeous wild mushroom tart. And this household most definitely loves its mushrooms.
My relationship with mushrooms goes back to when I was a little kid. I have fond memories of mushroom foraging in Russia, a skill that I am sad to have since lost. Some of my favorite dishes involve mushrooms: porcini soup, as dressing for pasta. I think until I tasted a truffle, I’d never met a mushroom I didn’t like. And I like truffles just fine, but I don’t go crazy for them the way I might for a good, fresh cepe.
The mushroom tart called to me; it seemed like the perfect vehicle for mushrooms enveloped in a mascaropone-eggy custard and laced with punchy cheese. I know that sometimes tart dough elicits fear and hesitation. People complain that it breaks and crumbles, and indeed it does that a lot. But if you (like Deb suggests in the book, and I’ve figured out in the last few years) roll the dough out between two pieces of plastic wrap, your tart dough will be very easy to transport into the tart pan.
We ate this tart for lunch with a simple salad of baby kale, pickled onion, and ricotta salata. It was a great way to crack open Deb’s beautiful book; and it’s just the beginning. I look forward to making the journey through the many more recipes, and hopefully future books, to come.
Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman
I tweaked a few things from Deb’s recipe in the book. I increased the butter in the filling to 2 tablespoons because after I used 3/4 of the stick for the tart crust, using just 1 tablespoon of butter and leaving the remaining tablespoon behind, seemed cruel, almost. I couldn’t get my hands on any wild mushrooms (much as I adore them) and I used the creminis that my local Trader Joe’s stocked – worked out beautifully. I added the wine at the end of cooking the mushrooms because I really love the way white wine infuses mushrooms at the end of cooking. And instead of the Fontina cheese, I used Gruyere instead as I happen to prefer its punch especially with mushrooms. Last, but not least, I wanted to have a tiny bit more egg, but not so much so as to add another egg into the mix, so instead of large eggs, I swapped in the extra-large ones. If you only have large eggs, fear not, that’s how Deb’s recipe was originally written. And if you’re a huge Ina Garten devotee and buys only extra-large eggs, this will work too – hooray!
A technical note – I found that the crust behaved a lot better when I baked it with pie weights though Deb says it’ll bake fine without, mine shrunk a tiny bit and I find that an ounce of prevention, especially the kind that is super easy, goes a long way for me. After all, tart dough, while not the hardest thing to make, isn’t a 5 minute proposition.
For the Crust:
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (140 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (30 grams) yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons (85 grams or 3/4 stick) unsalted butter, chilled, diced, plus additional to grease the foil
1 large egg
For the Filling:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 pounds (680 grams) assorted wild mushrooms and cremini, or cremini alone if wild mushrooms can’t be found
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup (60 ml) dry white wine
Kosher salt (I used about 1 teaspoon)
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup (60 grams) mascarpone cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup (60 ml) whole milk
2 extra large eggs
1/2 cup (55 grams) grated Gruyere cheese
1/4 cup (25 grams) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese
Make the Crust:
1. Combine the flour, cornmeal, and salt, in the work bowl of your food processor fitted with a blade, and pulse a few times to distribute the ingredients evenly. Add the butter, and pulse the machine until the butter is in small bits, the size of peas. Add the egg, and run the machine until the dough starts to clump together in large chunks.
2. On a lightly floured sheet of plastic wrap (I find that I have to get 2 sheets and overlay them with one another) shape your dough into a ball and flatten into a circular disk. Cover with another (or 2) piece of the plastic wrap and using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to a 12-inch circle. [I prefer to use plastic wrap for tart dough because the chances of the dough breaking on your before you transport it to the tart pan, are very low.] Once the dough has been rolled to correct size, peel off the top piece of the plastic wrap. Gently lift and invert the dough (and bottom piece of plastic wrap) over a 9-inch fluted, removable bottom tart pan. You can use the plastic and your fingers underneath to gently position the dough exactly where you want it. Carefully peel back the remaining piece of plastic, and press thee dough against the bottom and sides. Run your rolling pin firmly over the top edge of your pasty pan to remove the excess dough. Transfer the tart pan onto a baking sheet and place in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes.
3. Heat your oven to 375 degrees F (click here for Celsius/gas mark). Lightly butter one side of a 12-inch square piece of foil, and press the foil, butter side down, firmly against the base and sides of the crust. Place the pie weights (or beans or pennies) on top, transfer the tart pan onto a shallow baking sheet, and bake for 10 minutes. Carefully remove the weights and the foil, and bake for another 5 to 8 minutes, or until the crust is firm and lightly golden at the edges. Transfer the tart shell to a cooling rack until needed. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.
Make the Filling:
4. In a large sauté pan set over medium heat add the butter and the oil until the foaming subside. Add the shallots, and cook, stirring from time to time until they are soft, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, another minute. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the mushrooms and the thyme. The mushrooms must fit in a single layer on your pan; if they do not, you will need to cook them in batches. Cook the mushrooms until they are tender and the liquid they release has completely evaporated (i.e. the pan is nearly dry), about 9 to 10 minutes. Add the wine and deglaze, scraping the brown bits (a fond) off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon, until the pan is dry. Season the mushrooms to taste with salt and pepper and transfer to a plate to cool.
5. In a large bowl combine the mascarpone with the milk and whisk together until smooth. Whisk in the eggs, and stir in the Gruyere and the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Fold in the mushrooms.
Assemble the Tart:
6. Pour the filling into the tart shell and bake for about 35 to 40 minutes, or until the tart is puffed and golden on top, and the tip of a knife inserted into the center and turned releases no wet custard. Transfer the tart to a cooling rack and cool for 10 minutes before serving. The tart is best served warm but is also delicious at room temperature. Serve it with your favorite green salad, such as this one, for a lunch that will make you feel like you’ve just been transported to France.
Serves 6 to 8 (makes one 9-inch round tart)