When I brought the new local oyster and lion’s mane mushrooms home from the Co-op, I just stared at them. Dramatically lit on my cutting board, minutes passed before I could bring myself to let a knife near them. I’m not used to this form of beauty!
I’ve adjusted to (but still stop to wonder at – what else is life for?) the splash of color from opening up a beet, or noonday light glancing through salad greens, or the fresh perfume and ode to summer wafting up from a just-sliced perfectly-in-season tomato. But in March, with the season change stirring, when we’ve just gotten the earliest spring gift of our snowdrop bulbs peeking into the world, the thought of fresh and new to the senses is awfully delicious.
Yet with delicate, very fresh mushrooms like these, the beauty isn’t in color but in texture and in wonder. Their growing formation is fascinating, at least to me. (They’re packed in blue-labelled plastic boxes, like grape tomatoes, still in their growing formation from Mushroom Mills in Columbus Junction.) Their delicate gills are such a contrast to the beets and carrots and potatoes I’m still eating from my garden, stored all winter long.
If you pick these oyster or lion’s manes up and sit spellbound like me, well, I have a quick trick for you. Ditch whatever recipe you’d conjured. Get out the sauté pan and a thick pat of butter and salt – and that’s all you need. Cut off their stems and slice the mushrooms a third of an inch thick, get the butter hot in the pan over medium heat, brown both sides of each slice until dark golden, and sprinkle them with salt. Aaaand eat. The gills turn crispy, the mushroom still juicy: Best snack or casual appetizer ever. Gosh they are delicious.
(Okay, disclaimer: What, fried in butter, isn’t delicious? However, people go to great lengths – and big dollars – for a buttery taste of morel around here. Well, to my palate, this satisfies the same desire. I think these are just as good… but that’s hearsay! Don’t tell anyone I said that.)
If you can make it past wondering at their beauty with enough time to make an actual recipe with them, this mushroom tart from my favorite cookbook is delightful. Ideal for a special meal – lunch, brunch, dinner, or simply a celebration of these new fungi friends – it’s light with a perk from lemon and earthy at the same time.
from Tartine, by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson
partially baked and cooled 9-inch flaky pastry (baked until pastry just turns opaque) tart shell - your recipe of choice, not a sweetened dough, or pre-made frozen dough
1 lb. mix of fresh mushrooms (the more flavorful the mushrooms, the more interesting the end result) – do not wash but wipe caps with a damp cloth if needed
3 T. unsalted butter
packed 1 c. shallots, halved and thinly sliced
¼ t. salt
¼ t. black pepper, freshly ground
lemon juice from ½ a medium lemon
2 T. water
1 c. crème fraîche or heavy cream (I used cream, though I’m sure the former would be delicious)
3 large egg yolks
¼ t. freshly grated nutmeg
1 T. fresh thyme, coarsely chopped
Have pre-baked tart shell ready.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Prepare the mushrooms by removing stems if spongy. Slice depending on shape and size and how you’d like them to look in the finished tart.
In a heavy saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add shallots and sauté for a few minutes, until they start to color. Increase heat to high, add mushrooms, salt, and pepper, and sauté until the mushrooms are soft, about 5-10 minutes.
When the mushrooms are soft, push them to one side of the saucepan. Add lemon juice and water to deglaze the pan, scraping up any brown bits from the pan. Remove from heat.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together cream and egg yolks until smooth. Mix in mushrooms and gently pour the mixture into the tart shell (or put mushrooms into shell and pour cream and egg mixture over). If the sides of the pre-baked tart shell have slumped unevenly and putting all the filling in would cause it to overflow, egg mixture that doesn’t fit in the shell could be carefully poured in, 5 minutes into baking.
Bake until the custard is barely firm in the center, about 20 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack. The tart will continue to set as it cools.
Serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with thyme and freshly grated nutmeg.