Growing up in a family of outdoor enthusiasts, I spent my childhood camping and exploring the nature. One of my very first memories is sitting on my Dad's back - in a baby backpack carrier - when he was crosscountry skiing on a snowy winter day. I even remember stopping at a ski hut on that trip, where we enjoyed some warm juice and sandwiches. Being able to comfortably fit in and sit in the baby carrier, I must have been about two years old. As we got older, we often spent weekends in the forest or by the sea - going for picnics, hiking, playing, or picking wild mushrooms or berries. Sometimes, my parents would prepare pancake batter at home, take it along in a bottle, and then make pancakes on a campfire. With the years, I learned to love and respect the nature just as much as they do - and recognize many of the delicious, edible wild berries and mushrooms.
Although my opportunities to pick wild mushrooms here in Denmark are limited - I don't know any Danish mushroom pickers, and living in the city, I have no idea where to look - I love to go mushroom picking whenever I visit my parents during the season. As avid mushroom hunters, my parents also pick such a big amount of different mushrooms every year that they kindly give some to me and my sister - dried or frozen, and ready to use. I have been enjoying mushrooms from last year up until now, and have been saving the last few portions for a special occasion. Now, however, the new mushroom season has started, and since I'm planning a visit home within the next few weeks, I have finally started using the last of my stock from 2009.
This weekend, I thawed a bag of frozen Winter Chanterelle
(picture above). This little mushroom is often found in deep fir forests, growing on moss or on decayed, moss-covered logs. It is in season late in the fall - and long into the winter - and blends easily with fallen leaves. Often, you won't notice the mushrooms until you literally stand on them - and then, suddenly, they are all around you.
This is a typical area where winter chanterelles are found. :)
Once upon a time, I tried to train my dog - a yellow Lab with an amazing sense of smell - into becoming a Chanterelle hunting dog; but although he seemed to learn how to find the mushrooms, I didn't manage to teach him how to indicate that he had found them. When he found a spot with the mushrooms, he'd just jump excitedly all around them, tossing them on the ground - or he would go, find the mushrooms, and return to me, awaiting a well deserved treat. ;-) Although we had an obvious communication problem there and he wasn't of much help with mushroom hunting itself, he was the greatest companion on those trips, and always ready to go. Even last fall, when he was already very old, appreciated his long naps by the fireplace, refused to go out in the rain and walked slowly, he never hesitated a moment if asked "should we go for a walk in the forest?". He seemed to become years younger in the forest, on the soft, moss-covered terrain, and might even run a few steps. Mostly, however, he was excited about all the different smells - other dogs, foxes, rabbits, squirrels, birds, and perhaps even the rare bear - and loved doing his own investigations.
So - with all these trips to the forest, we can usually enjoy wild mushrooms throughout the year: in soups, sauces, bread, rolls, pancakes, casseroles, and so many other delicious dishes. Earlier this weekend, I had been cleaning my cupboard, and found a box of instant mashed potato, which I never really use. There is one thing, however, where this ingredient goes perfectly: a vegetable tart. You can use leftover mashed potatoes - which I often do - but if you don't have them on hand, instant mashed potato works beautifully. This recipe is taken and slightly adapted from my Mom - but my tart is still a lame comparison to hers. ;-)
Wild Mushroom Harvest Tart
- 3/4 c whole wheat spelt flour (or regular all purpose or whole wheat flour)
- 2/3 c instant mashed potato powder
- 1/3 c rolled oats
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 c vegan margarine, softened*
- 3/4 c cold water
- 1/4 to 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 c wild mushrooms (preferably chanterelle of some kind) OR if you can't get any wild mushrooms, you can substitute about 1/2 lbs button mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, or any other type you like
- 1 small leek
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 medium zucchini, chopped
- 2 carrots, grated
- 1 small bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 hot chili pepper, seeded and chopped
- 1 tbsp oil
- 1 c non-dairy cream or milk (I used half rice cream - with about 7% fat - and half unsweetened soy milk)
- salt, black and white pepper (and soy sauce) to taste
- handful of fresh herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, parsley - whatever you have on hand)
Preheat oven to 200 C (400 F). Prepare a 9-inch tart pan (I used a loose-bottom pan).
To prepare the crust
In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Add the softened margarine and enough water to form a firm dough. Add just a little water at a time, until you get the desired consistency (the amount of water needed will depend on the type of flour and potato you use). When ready, the dough should naturally clump into a ball. With your hands, press the dough onto the bottom and about 1 to 1.5 inches up on the sides of the tart pan. Poke with a fork a few times, on the bottom and sides, to prevent bubbling in the oven. Bake the crust in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes, while you prepare the filling.
To make the filling
Prepare your wild mushrooms, depending on the type you're using (boiling if necessary, or otherwise, frying until the liquid is absorbed). If using regular button mushrooms, skip to the next step:
Heat the oil in a large skillet or a wok pan. Add the leek, garlic, and zucchini, and fry for a few minutes. Add the rest of the vegetables and the mushrooms, and cook until everything is tender (not mushy). Mix in the cream or milk, and taste with salt, pepper, and some mushroom soy sauce (optional). Add the fresh herbs.
Pour the filling onto the crust, and bake for 30-40 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the crust is golden brown. Let cool for a moment before serving - the tart should be served warm, not steaming hot.
*You can replace the vegan margarine with canola oil. However, I do recommend using (heart-friendly :)) margarine, as it makes a crispier crust and gives it a buttery flavor.
Don't worry if your crust doesn't look perfect. I promise no one will notice when they taste the tart. ;)
I also forgot to pre-bake my crust this time; but although the tart will turn out nicely even without baking the crust first, I would still recommend pre-baking yours, as it produces a firmer bottom and a crispier crust.
I ran out of garlic, so I used some organic garlic pepper to replace both garlic, salt, and pepper (my spice has garlic, black pepper, white pepper, and herbs). I also added a little mushroom soy sauce for flavor.
In the oven, this anemic-looking tart turned into this:
When using a loose-bottom pan, let the tart rest in the pan for a while before attempting to remove it. If you remove the pan when the tart is very hot and not set, chances are that the sides will collapse.
Then enjoy with a big, fresh salad on the side. ;-)
A word of warning: You should never pick any wild mushrooms that you don't recognize 110 %. If you are unsure if a certain mushroom is edible or not, leave it in the forest or ask an expert. There are some mushrooms, such as the Destroying Angel, which closely resemble good, edible mushrooms, but are deadly poisonous. Some other mushrooms are edible when prepared, but poisonous if not properly cooked. If you are new to mushroom picking, it may be a good idea to attend a course, or to accompany a more experienced mushroom hunter. I suggest learning to recognize a few types of mushrooms - those not easily mixed with poisonous ones, such as several types of porcini - and sticking to them. For the last, cultivated mushrooms can be substituted for wild mushrooms in any recipe, and more common 'wild' mushrooms, such as yellow chantarelles or porcini, are widely available in the stores as well.