Mushrooms and I share a deep love that’s existed as long as I can remember. Growing up in Eastern Washington, I recall long walks in the forests behind our home, and annual trips to the Fourth of July pass, where my family of four would scour the ground beneath the trees in search of mushrooms like little buried treasures waiting to be discovered. We hunted–because the official expression is “mushroom hunting”–for chanterelles, shaggy manes, morels; each variety hungrily sought after at different times throughout the year. We considered morels the most precious, and would sometimes walk for hours with our heads bent down, scanning the pine-needle covered ground for the telltale bump, and perhaps even the “wrinkly”brown of an actual cap. Sometimes we would return with just a handful of morels, which my father would carefully clean, slice and saute with just a little butter and salt. In those cases, we would only get a few slices each, and we would savor each bite for as long as possible, tasting the earthiness, dampness and silkiness only captured by mushrooms. Sometimes we would score a bag of chanterelles or shaggy manes, which would be sauteed with a little white wine and greedily devoured the same evening.
For a brief period, I hardly ate any mushrooms, not because I had lost a taste for them, but because someone or something had misinformed me about their nutritional value, and I came to see mushrooms as a filler, like potatoes. Luckily, that phase was short-lived, and we now eat mushrooms every week–usually two times per week. I still love the slightly musty earthy flavor, and I now appreciate how healthy they are.
In addition to serving as an excellent source of low-fat, zero cholesterol protein, mushrooms provide good amounts of several important nutrients including niacin, riboflavin, selenium and copper. But the best news about these immunity-boosting forest dwellers lies in their anti-cancer properties. Numerous studies have linked regular consumption of mushrooms with a decreased risk of a range of cancers, most notably breast cancer. Several international studies have shown that eating just one mushroom a day can reduce a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer by more than 50%. Studies involving maitake mushrooms, also known as Hen of the Woods, suggest that regular consumption can limit or even reverse tumor growth.
Add mushrooms to soups and sauces, or use them as a meat substitute for your Meatless Monday. I regular add chopped shitake mushrooms to the pasta sauce and pizzas I make for the kids. They still won’t eat them whole, but it must be a texture thing since they love mushrooms chopped or pureed into many of their meals.
This mushroom tart is simple to make, and is rich and flavorful. It would make a nice addition to your Thanksgiving or Christmas spread. I served it to my mother recently with my persimmon, avocado little gem salad. I devoured two pieces that evening and ate the remaining two servings the next day.
Dough for standard tart crust (standard or gluten-free, recipe here)
1 tbsp butter or ghee
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2-3 shallots, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 sprigs fresh thyme
4-5 cups of mushrooms* washed, trimmed and sliced into 1/4-inch thickness (any mix you like)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp fresh-ground pepper
1/3 cup creme fraiche
3 tbsp parmesan cheese
* I used trumpet and tree oyster mushrooms, but you can make this dish even more spectacular using more expensive and exclusive mushrooms, such as chanterelles. Regardless, I think a mix works best.
Preheat the oven to 375F.
Press the dough into a 9-inch tart pan. Prick the bottom several times with a fork and bake in the center of the oven for 12-14 minutes or until the crust is lightly gold on its edges.
In the meantime, melt the butter or ghee with olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add in the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring often until the shallots have softened and begin to turn translucent.
Add in the thyme leaves and mushrooms and continue to cook for 2-3 minutes. Add in the wine and cook 2-3 minutes more. Add in the chicken stock and cook, stirring frequently until all the liquid has evaporated.
Stir in the salt, pepper and creme fraiche, and spoon the mixture into the tart crust, spreading evenly. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
This dish reheats surprisingly well, so you can enjoy leftovers the next day–if there are any!