If you were following this blog during the Fall season this year, than you already know that there was a bumper crop of porcini (boletus edulis, herkkutatti) in Finland this year. They were everywhere. The first few days after I heard they were out, I remember taking a turn down a country road out near the Sipoo national park, driving slowly, and peering left into the trees as I drove, trying to detect any signs of those domed mushrooms beneath the fir and pine. And then I saw it. A single porcini standing proudly in the middle of the pine duff about 15 meters from the edge of the road. I hit the brakes, parked the car just barely off the road, and ran down into the woods, mushroom knife in hand, to collect it.
Oh, I know that it was sheer dumb luck to spot the mushroom I was looking for from a moving vehicle; then again, the eyes see what the mind is focused on finding, and I was heavily tuned into finding these mushrooms. And as my Dad used to say: never underestimate the power of sheer, dumb luck.
The crop that day wasn’t spectacular: I came home with just under 2 kg / 5 lbs of mushrooms, but I knew that anyday now, they’d be in full flush. This was on a Tuesday. We planned a trip north for that Friday – up to the cabin where the competition for mushrooms was less and where vast, pristine, forests that Finland is known for were all around us – hopefully filled with porcini.
Saturday morning we headed out just before breakfast toward a couple of spots I’d scouted earlier in the summer. I was thinking, given my experience a few days earlier, that there wouldn’t be too many mushrooms, but maybe enough for a soup, a pie, and a few to dry for later. My, oh my, people! They were everywhere. At first I was a bit greedy – grabbing big and small like each one would be my last. Until I took a deep breath, slowly looked around, and down, and realized that there were #1 and #2 buttons everywhere, in perfect condition, and that there was no need at all to look at the larger, potentially worm-infested mushrooms. We quickly filled the two baskets we had with us, and then went out again, and again, and again.
I don’t know how many we eventually picked over the course of the next week – I do know that we have 5 or 6 liters of dried ones and 10 or 12 liters of frozen ones, as well several jars of the ones I put up, Italian style, dried with salt, boiled in vinegar and preserved in oil, and that’s after a eating a lot of them fresh and giving a pile away. My friend Anna Maija had told me several years prior that her sister had picked 50 kilos!!!! of porcini at their cabin. “How is that even possible?” said I, who had only ever found one or two, in total disbelief.
Now I know. Sometimes Nature really delivers. But she doesn’t wait. One week later, we were fighting with the worms for the best of the porcini mushrooms. Two weeks later, there were a couple of good ones few and far between the masses of giant, worm-infested, rotted out fungi. Game over.
But thankfully, the music plays on in my kitchen, where yesterday I reached into the jar of dried porcini to pull out 30 grams for a mushroom tart. This tart is so simple, so perfect, so full of flavor – it’s hard to imagine a better way to serve up this magnificent gift of the forest. The mushroom takes center stage, with onion providing full back-up, garlic a little depth, and thyme dancing around the edges adding the finishing touches. Served in a crispy barley crust (you could also use rye), you have a balance of crisp, flaky dough and soft, savory filling – the perfect dinner.
Porcini Thyme Tart
1. Prepare the mushrooms. In a bowl combine and let sit while you prepare the other ingredients:
30 grams / 1 ounce dried porcini (herkkutatti)
boiling water to cover
2. Make the crust.
1 teaspoon / 5 ml salt
2/3 cup / 150 ml cold water
3 cups + 2 tablespoons / 455g barley flour
1 cup + 5 tablespoons / 300 g very cold butter
In a small bowl, combine the salt and the water and stir to dissolve. Keep cold until ready to use.
You can make the dough in a food processor or by hand. To use a food processor, but the flour in the work bowl. Cut the butter into pieces and scatter over the flour. Pulse briefly until the mixture forms large crumbs, and some of the butter pieces are about the size of peas. Add the water-salt mixture and pulse briefly until the dough starts to form a ball, but is not completely smooth. You should still see butter chunks.
To make by hand, put the flour in a bowl. Cut the butter into pieces and scatter over the flour. Using your hands, a fork or a pastry blender (my preferred tool), work the butter into the flour until the mixture forms large chunks and some of the butter pieces are about the size of peas. Pour in the water-salt mixture and, using your hands, work the dough together so it forms a ball but is not smooth. You should still see some pieces of butter.
On a floured work surface, divide the dough into two equal balls and shape each ball into a disk about 1 inch / 2.5 cm thick. You will need only one disk of dough for this recipe wrap the other disk in plastic wrap. If you do not plan to use the other disk immediately, place the disk in a plastic bag, label with contents and date, and freeze. Remove from the freezer and thaw in the refrigerator one night before you’d like to use it.
Dust the countertop lightly with barley flour. Roll the other disk of dough out into a large circle, transfer to a 10″/25 cm tart pan, and press it into the bottom and the sides of the pan. Using your rolling pin, roll across the top of the tart dish to cut away any excess dough. This excess dough can be saved for a later use: wrap it in plastic wrap and store as above. Using a fork, poke a few holes into the bottom and sides of the dough in the tart pan. This will prevent it from puffing up when you bake it.
Place the dough lined tart pan into the freezer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat your oven to 225°C/425°F. Remove the tart from the freezer, place in the oven, and turn the oven temperature down to 200°C/400°F. Bake for 5 minutes. Remove from oven. Leave the oven on at 200°C/400°F.
3. Prep the filling.
1 tablespoon oil (I use untested, unfiltered sesame oil or rapeseed oil)
1 yellow onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
soaked mushrooms from step 1
leaves from 3-4 thyme sprigs to equal 1 heaped teaspoon
2 cups milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated mild cheese: Emmental, Gouda or Mozzarella work well here
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan (cast iron is best) and add the onion. Sauté the onion over medium heat for 15 minutes so it is very soft and slightly caramelized.
While the onion cooks, drain the mushrooms, saving the soaking water for a later use. (Chefs consider this soaking water ‘liquid gold’ – so full of umami flavor – so freeze it and use in risotto or soups.) Chop the mushrooms into large dice. Remove the onions from heat and add the mushrooms garlic and thyme leaves. Stir well to combine.
In a small bowl, beat the eggs, add the milk, salt and pepper, and whisk to combine well.
4. Assemble & Bake.
Place the tart pan onto a baking sheet to make putting it in and out of the oven easier.
Sprinkle the grated cheese evenly over the bottom of the baked tart crust. Spoon the mushroom mixture evenly over the top of the cheese. Pour the egg mixture over the mushrooms. Transfer the tart to the hot oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until tart is slightly puffed and golden brown. Allow the tart to rest for 10-15 minutes. Serve warm.