Thursday, April 22, 2010

Baby bella mushroom tart

051 v1

In Italy, France, eastern Europe and Russia, foraging for mushrooms in the spring and fall is a national pastime.   You know that the season is under way when neighbors behave strangely - avoiding eye-contact while discreetly wandering in the direction of the woods and emerging casually with a bounty neatly tucked out of sight in coat pockets!  Similarly, when you see cars parked in disarray on the side of the road, you can be pretty sure that scavengers are secretly searching for mushrooms in the damp woodland areas nearby.   Secrecy and protection of the fruitful sites are carried through generations, and it is rude to ask where where the mushrooms were found.

There is a magical quality to mushrooms.  I am always amazed at their instant appearance on my lawn after a rainy spell.  But because I’m mycophobic (like most of us in America) when surprised by mushrooms that have the potential of being poisonous, I don’t venture to even touch them, let alone consider eating them!  In Europe the attitude is decidedly mycophilic and children are taught to identify the edible from the poisonous at an early age.  If you are in France and there is any doubt in your mind, you can conveniently take your harvest to a pharmacist - they are all trained to identify them.

During our stay at the amazing Villa Ferraia in Tuscany, my wine group and I were treated to an afternoon of foraging in the cool, humid woods.   Amateurs at best, we were accompanied by an expert woodsman who spoke not a word of English and nodded ‘yes’, and ‘no’ to our findings.   Stefano is the culinary director at the Villa.   Here’s his find – a huge portobello!   Mushrooms flourish in humus, the decaying vegetation found on moist soil around trees and under brush. 

2006 09 Italy 117 v1

We were very fortunate to find a few ovoli mushrooms that day!   In researching for the name of this bright orange mushroom, I discovered that they are very rare.   They have brilliant orange caps and white stems and are very expensive to buy if you are lucky enough to find them at market.  

2006 09 Italy 126-crop v1

Always eaten raw, they were sliced thinly and wonderful paired with a local Chianti. 

2006 09 Italy 150-crop v1

Mushrooms can be called the ‘meaty’ vegetable because of their high protein content.  They can easily replace meat to balance a meal.  In this mushroom tart, I use dried porcini mushrooms and young portobello mushrooms, also known as ‘baby bellas’.   A little brandy and salty parmesan to the mix enhance the earthiness of this hearty tart.

004-crop v1

Baby bella mushroom tart

Adapted from the Torta Salata recipe in Bologna Mia by Loretta Paganini.  Serves 8

Tart dough

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon sea salt

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed in 1” pieces and chilled

2 egg yolks

5 tablespoons ice water


¼ cup dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in hot water to cover for 30 minutes (reserve water after draining)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small red onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 20 oz packages Baby Bella mushrooms, brushed clean of any dirt, stems removed and thinly sliced 

¼ cup brandy

1 - 1½ teaspoons sea salt (to taste)

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

2 large eggs

1 cup whipping cream

½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

pinch of freshly ground nutmeg

1/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated

To make the tart dough:  Place flour, salt and butter in food processor (or bowl).  Pulse (or work quickly with your hands) until the butter is the size of peas.  Add egg yolks and ice water and pulse until the mixture forms a mass.  If it’s still dry, add more water, one teaspoon at a time.  Shape into a flattened ball and wrap in plastic or foil and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Butter a 9” tart pan with a removable bottom.  Sprinkle lightly with flour.  On a floured counter, roll out the dough to about an 11” circle.  Carefully transfer the dough to the tart pan.  Pat the dough so that it is snug in the bottom and sides of tart pan and trim the excess from the edge of the pan.  Prick the bottom at 1” intervals with the tines of a fork.  Chill while you prepare the filling.

011 v1

To make the filling: Preheat the oven to 400ºF.  In a large saucepan, heat the oil.  Add the onions, garlic, mushrooms and drained porcini mushrooms.  Sauté over high heat for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables begin to soften.  Add the brandy and porcini water and cook over low heat for about 20 minutes and the mixture begins to dry out.  Add salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes and parsley and combine. Remove from heat and allow the mixture to cool.

In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, cream, white pepper, nutmeg and parmesan cheese until combined.  Add to the cooled mushroom mixture and mix well.  Pour the filling into the prepared crust and bake for 35 – 40 minutes, or until deep golden brown on the top.

Cool on a rack and serve warm or at room temperature.

026 v1    Prijatno!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Sautéed fresh garbanzo beans

030 v1

If you blink at the wrong time during early spring, you may miss the fleeting presence of fresh garbanzo beans, still in their small, fuzzy green pods.   Also known as chickpeas, ceci beans, Indian peas, Bengal gram and Kabuli chana, we are much more familiar in the US with garbanzos in canned or dried forms before they become the key ingredient in hummus, falafel, Indian vegetarian curries and Italian salads. 

I first spied fresh garbanzos as recently as last year.   Popping the beans out of their pods and savoring their green, sweet, and slightly nutty essence transported me far from the hectic, crowded city to a spacious country porch, a rocking chair and visions of me shelling garbanzos…I was well on my way to eating the entire bag by the time I arrived home!   Similar to green pea pods but smaller, their shells are thinner, hairy and paper-like.  One or two peas occupy each pod.  This picture shows how they are sold at markets in Mexico - fresh pods still attached to their branches.  The leaves are used to make sun tea and the branches are fed to the burros!   In the US you will pay a little more since you’re only buying the pods.   If you a lucky enough to come across some at your market or grocery store, grab some! 

This is how I found them

023 v1

Sadly, most of the crops in California support the dried garbanzo market.   Hopefully, with more families embracing a farm-to-table approach to their diets, these wonderful legumes will become a seasonal staple .   I recently read about a California farmer and his support of his Hispanic foreman’s “agricultural fantasy” - selling fresh garbanzos to “Gringos”!  When they introduced them at a market in San Francisco, Hispanic women delighted in the fresh crop, while the “Gringas” were not so easily charmed, especially put off by the chilling thought of, heaven forbid, shelling the beans themselves!!!  (Link to the entire article).     For people as particular as they are, sautéing them in their shells as I did below saves shelling time and they can be eaten like edamame – each person shelling his or her own.

In Mexico and from the Eastern Mediterranean to India, fresh garbanzos are eaten raw as well as cooked, and in many areas they are considered the poor man’s protein.  Aside from being high in protein, these nutritious little gems are also high in fiber and potassium .   My recent batch made it home with only a few beans eaten!   I decided to process them minimally so that they retain some of the raw “green” nutty taste that I hunger for.  A quick sauté did the trick for me, but you could also toss the pods in a little bit of olive oil and roast them at 425F for 25 – 30 minutes for a creamier texture.

055 v1

Heat a little bit of olive oil in a pan.  Carefully add the fresh garbanzo beans.  They will quickly begin jumping like popping corn!  


When the shells are charred on both sides, sprinkle with chile powder, cayenne pepper and kosher salt, to taste.  Finish with a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

058 v1

This simple snack is my entry to Magic Bullet To Go Giveaway, for which you can find details @ Fun and Food Cafe. You could win a Magic Bullet Food processor!  It’s easy!


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Babka

028 v1

This magnificent babka is a traditional Polish Easter bread that I made for my best friend’s annual Easter celebration.  Standing six inches tall, it is a slightly sweet yeast cake dotted with rum-soaked golden raisins and topped with a sweet lime glaze.  Rich in flavor thanks to 10 egg yolks, 2 whole eggs and melted butter, this babka is a fine way to break the Lenten fast!

Babka is the Northern Slavic word for “little grandmother”.  The bread is baked in a special pan that shapes the babka to emulate a full skirt covering the ample hips of a typical Eastern European grandmother.   The pan has ridges and curves suggesting the pleats and flowers of the fabric.  Unfortunately I don’t own a babka pan, so my large angel food cake pan became an acceptable stand-in.  

Thanks, Dorota for allowing me to make your babka this year!   Your Easter feasts are well-known and always a joy.

042 v1


Babka (adapted from Valinda’s recipe on Allrecipes)

1/3 cup rum, optional – if you want to soak the raisins*

3/4 cup golden raisins

1 cup milk or half-and-half

1/2 cup water

1 tablespoon sugar

2 1/2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast

2 eggs, room temperature

10 egg yolks, room temperature

3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted and cooled but still warm

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 teaspoons lime zest

6 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, plus about 1 cup more for kneading

*If you want the raisins to be plump and delicious, soak them in the rum the night before or at least 2 hours before you start the recipe. 

Warm the milk, water and sugar until it reaches 110F (45C).    Add yeast and set aside for about 5 minutes.   Lightly oil a large bowl and set aside.   Drain raisins and enjoy the rum while you bake!

Stir 2 eggs, egg yolks, butter, vanilla and lemon rind in a large bowl of a mixer.   Using the paddle attachment,  mix in yeast mixture and raisins and beat well.   When a loose dough has formed, turn out onto a well-floured floured surface and knead until smooth, about 10 minutes, using the extra 1 cup of flour if necessary.   Place the dough in the oiled bowl and turn to coat on all sides with the oil.   Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 45 minutes.   Deflate the dough by punching it down and folding it over onto itself about 4 times.   Let rise again until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes.

Grease a babka pan or a large angel food cake pan.  Deflate the dough again and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.   Shape it into a fat cylinder.  Place it into the babka or cake pan and fold over the ends.   Smooth the top with your hands until the dough is evenly dispersed.   Cover the pan with a damp cloth and let the dough rise until tripled in volume, about 40 minutes.  Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375F (190C).

Bake in preheated oven 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325F (165C) and bake for 30 minutes more. Reduce oven temperature to 275F (135C) and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown.   Let babka stand 5 to 10 minutes before removing from pan and cooling on a rack.

The Icing

2 cups confectioner’s sugar

2 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon lime zest

1 tablespoon lime juice

1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix above ingredients together.  Add more milk or sugar to achieve a pouring consistency.  Pour over the warm babka. 

047 v1

Peace and joy as we celebrate our Lord’s resurrection today! 

Hristos voskrese!