Caramelized Shallot and Mushroom Tarts
As you may recall from posts past, this Fred kind of has a thing for fungus. I’m not sure why but I’ve always been attracted to the Fungi Kingdom. I was enthralled by these organisms long before I started enjoying their taste or geeking out over textbooks devoted to them. For many years I hunted for and photographed fungi in their various stages of growth and decomposition,while knowing little about them. You might have called me a superficial fungi lover. But then I stumbled into a talk by Paul Stamets, one of the foremostmycologists (mushroom scientist) in the world. And from there my interest turned from a harmless hobby into an unstoppable fanaticism.
For months following his talk I would turn most conversations into an excuse to wax poetic about the wonders of fungi. Someone would say something like, “wow I had such a rough day” and my response would be “did you know that the largest living organism in the world is a fungus?” or Fred would say “want to go to the movies?” and I would respond “certain Native Americans used to utilize the fomes fomentarius fungus (aka tinder fungus) to carry fire around in. They would take a hot coal from their fire and place it inside the tinderfungus, which would preserve the coal’s heat. This allowed them to easily transport the hot coal to their next campsite where they would use it along with the remaining fungus as tinder to light that night’s fire. Brilliant right?” I was a woman obsessed.
Strangely, it wasn’t until I had exhausted everyone around me with fungi facts that I actually got down to the business of cooking and eating mushrooms. But man, once I started, the theme of obsession continued. Mushrooms are now almost constantly in the Freds’ pantry and fridge. At any given time we usually have at least three varieties of dried mushrooms on hand, let alone fresh ones. My favorites? Porcinis and chanterelles top the list of dried varieties, while oyster and shitake are my go to fresh varieties. And of course the simple button (crimini) mushroom is never to be underestimated. As in the tarts we’re sharing with you today. In this dish the mushrooms are simply sautéed in a bit of butter with fresh thyme to compliment, not overpower the delicate, caramelized shallots they’re paired with. The result is simple, but refined. Like the fungi kingdom.
Caramelized Shallot and Mushroom Tarts (crust adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)
(makes four 6″ tartlettes or one 9″ tart)
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tbs sugar
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbs ice water
1/2 cup grated parmesan or asiago cheese (about 1 ounce)
Filling and Topping Ingredients:
6 large shallots, thinly sliced
8 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced 1/4″ to 1/8″ thick
2-3 Tbs butter
3/4 cup ricotta cheese (can use part skim, don’t use non fat)
1/4 cup shredded fresh mozzarella (about 1 ounce)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (about 1 ounce)
2 Tbs fresh thyme, minced
salt and freshly cracked pepper
To make your crust: First, pulse the flour, sugar, and salt together in a food processor until combined. Then, drizzle the oil over your flour mixture and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Add 2 tablespoons of ice water and continue to process until some of the dough begins to clump into large pieces and no powdery bits remain. If you still have powdery bits of flour, add the remaining tablespoon water and pulse to incorporate, about 4 pulses. Your dough should resemble grape nuts and should hold together when pinched, but it will not look smooth like a bread or pizza dough.
Divide your dough evenly between your tart pans and press the crumbs into an even layer over the tart pan bottom and up the sides. Lay plastic wrap over the dough and smooth the dough underneath into an even layer. Place the tart pans on a baking sheet and freeze until the dough is firm – about 30 minutes. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Remove your tarts from the freezer and take off the saran wrap. Lightly coat four pieces of aluminum foil with oil and press them against the dough and over the edges of the tart pan. Then, fill the shells with pie weights and bake until the surface of the dough under the foil no longer looks wet, about 25-30 minutes.
While your tarts are baking heat your butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add your shallots and cook for a few minutes before reducing the heat to medium low. Cook until the shallots are nicely caramelized then remove them from the skillet and set aside. In the same skillet, increase the heat to medium and add additional butter if it’s dry. Add your mushrooms and 1 tablespoon thyme and saute 4 to 5 minutes until the mushrooms darken in color and are tender. When finished, set aside separate from the shallots.
Remove the tarts from the oven and remove the foil and weights. Sprinkle the parmesan evenly over the bottom of the tart shells, then return to the oven and continue to bake until the cheese is golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes. Set the baking sheet with the tart shells on a wire rack to cool slightly, about 10 minutes. (At this point the cooled shell can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and held at room temperature for up to 1 day.) Increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees.
While your tart shells cool, mix the ricotta, parmesan, mozzarella, and 1 tablespoon of your thyme together and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Once your tart shells have cooled enough to touch, fill them with your cheese mixture, spread evenly between all tarts. Cover the cheese with the caramelized shallots, pushing them into the cheese a bit, and then arrange the mushrooms on top in whatever pattern you find most pleasing.
Bake the tarts until the cheese is bubbling and the mushrooms have shriveled a bit, 20 to 25 minutes.
Let the tarts cool slightly on a wire rack for a few minutes before attempting to remove them from their pans. To easily remove your tarts from their pans, place them over a glass that is smaller in diameter than the bottom of the pan, then pull the edge of the pan down off of the tart. Slide your tart off the bottom of the pan and onto a serving plate.
If freezing extra tarts, make sure that they cool entirely first. When cooled to room temperature, place them in freezer bags and place on a baking sheet. Freeze them on the baking sheet so that their crusts don’t crack during freezing. Once the tarts are solidly frozen you may remove them from the baking sheet and stack them if desired. Reheat frozen tarts in a toaster oven for best results.