Yule fare: Wild Mushroom Pie
Our calendar calls Dec. 21 the first day of winter, but in these latitudes, the ancients had it right: This is the deep, dark heart of the season, and all our celebrations and feasting are, at bottom, gestures of hope for the return of the light.
It’s also a season of rich, hearty food, much of it sweet. I don’t know about you, but I tire of the sweets and start longing for savory even as I’m baking yet another batch of Christmas cookies.
This lovely pie is perfect Yule fare, especially when it’s made with good things harvested and preserved by drying during the growing season.
I have a little tabletop food dehydrator – nothing fancy, just one of those inexpensive models with a blow-dryer type attachment that fits on top of a set of tiered plastic drying trays. This summer, I pitted and dried sour cherries from the farmers’ market; later in the fall, big orange chanterelle mushrooms harvested from the woods in Oregon’s coast range. The mushrooms especially lend themselves to drying – brushed free of forest duff and debris, trimmed to remove small bits of rot and sliced crosswise, pounds of mushrooms can be dried to mere handfuls of leathery fragments. The drying concentrates their rich, wild flavor; reconstituted in a little hot water or stock, they add a deep, hearty element to stews, gravies – and mushroom pie.
I owe this recipe to my Internet friend Whit, an accomplished Colorado cook and caterer who posted it to a LiveJournal food community several years back. I’ve been making it ever since, with slight variations (he adds green pepper, which I don’t much care for, and doesn’t have access to the wonderful wild mushrooms of Oregon). Around my house, it’s become a holiday tradition, a hearty, easier-than-it-looks precursor to the roast bird and trimmings of Christmas day. While the flavors are rich, the ingredients are fairly simple, and entirely good for you.
Leftover mushroom pie, reheated in the oven, will sustain me today as I start the prep work for tomorrow’s feast (roast duck with pomegranate glace, tiny yams and sweet potatoes cooked with persimmons, oven-roasted Brussels sprouts and a tangerine-cranberry sorbet).
Bonus for those who are feeding holiday guests with dietary restrictions: The dish is vegetarian, and if you use a dairy-free pie crust, vegan as well.
Wild Mushroom Pie
Crust for a two-crust pie, homemade or store-bought
3-4 small potatoes sliced very thin
1 medium white onion diced
3-4 cloves garlic chopped
A mixture of mushrooms, fresh and/or dried, wild and domesticated, to make 2-3 cups of coarsely chopped mushrooms. I used:
1 large portabello
A handful of crimini mushrooms
A few shiitake mushrooms
A generous handful of dried chanterelles, reconstituted by steeping for 30 minutes in the cooking stock (see below)
If you like, set aside one or two pretty mushrooms for garnish.
1 cup vegetable stock.*
A cup or so of mixed dried fruits (I used sour cherries, cranberries and chopped apricot, but raisins, currants and even figs are lovely in this pie)
A small handful of whole (unsalted) almonds
Salt (you may not need it)
* Vegetable stock: Throw out the bouillion cubes; they’re full of MSG and mainly taste like salt. Use good canned stock such as Safeway’s O organics line, a high-quality stock base or make your own: Toss vegetable trimmings and onion skins into freezer bags as you cook; when you have a nice big bag or two, dump them into a stock pot full of water with some fresh herbs and simmer until the vegetables are close to disintegrating; strain off the solids, discard and you’ve got flavorful stock. Use it now, or freeze it for later.
Line a deep-dished glass pie pan with crust; set aside the second crust to top the pie.
Heat oven to 375F.
In a large skillet, heat a tablespoon or so of oil to medium hot. in a large skillet or saucepan heat oil to medium hot. Add onions, garlic and potato and sautee until the onions are translucent but not browning. Remove and set aside in a bowl.
Add more oil and all the mushrooms and fresh herbs and pepper. Sautee, stirring occasionally, until the ‘shrooms have softened and given up their liquid.
Return the potato mixture to the pan and let it cook down for a bit. Stir in the stock and let it simmer until the potatoes are becoming tender.
By now much of the liquid will have evaporated away. If not, strain the vegetables over a bowl to save the stock (It makes great soup!). Stir the dried fruit and almonds into the mushroom mixture, check the flavor and add salt if necessary; I never do.
Fill the piecrust to overbrimming, mounding the filling in the center a bit. Pour a little of the reserved stock over the filling.
Top with the second crust, crimping the edges to seal. Use a sharp knife to slash a few vents in the surface to let the steam escape (feel free to be decorative)
Bake at 375 for 30-45 minutes, until the crust is golden-brown and the pie’s juices have begun to bubble up through the vents. If you like, add one or two pretty mushrooms for garnish about 10 minutes before it’s ready to come out of the oven.
Let the pie sit for a few minutes before slicing and serving. It will probably fall apart a bit anyway. You won’t care. Serve with a green salad and a nice glass of wine. Leftovers, should there be such things, are tasty reheated or cold.
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