Today’s Washington Post “Cooking Off the Cuff” (here ) tells of an onion tart that became a mushroom-onion tart. When figuring out how to incorporate the mushrooms into the filling, I’d felt that the most obvious way was to sauté them and combine them with the pre-cooked onions. But because of the particular mushrooms I had (excellent-quality hen-of-the-woods) I took a different route, the one described in “Cooking Off the Cuff”.
A few days later, more guests were coming and I thought I’d repeat the tart as a first course: it had been exceptionally well received the first time around. But the mushroom situation was quite different: it wasn’t a farmers’ market day, and I was feeling too lazy to trek all the way across town to find what I really wanted. One nearby store sometimes has a decent selection of mushrooms, so I strolled over there, to find only cellophane-wrapped hen-of-the-woods (they looked nice) and some good oyster mushrooms. I bought some of each, but when I got home was disappointed at how little fragrance the hen-of-the-woods had – and at how much moisture they’d retained in their sealed package.
Clearly, just laying them atop the onions would be risky: because of the excess moisture they might not get crisp in time, or they might exude too much water. And their lack of aroma suggested that they might not even taste all that good. So I reverted to the more obvious approach, first cooking the hen-of-the-woods in butter alone (so that if they were awful I could throw them away without tainting the oyster mushrooms). In fact, they were fine. They didn’t fill the kitchen with that woodsy aroma of the excellent ones I’d had from other sources, but they tasted mushroomy and pleasing. So I added the oyster mushrooms, which I had torn lengthwise, and continued to cook until they were all done.
For the tart filling, I combined these with more of those pre-cooked onions I mention in the “Cooking Off the Cuff” post, but to make up for the blander mushrooms I used more sage, more black pepper and a handful of freshly toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped. The nuts were a good innovation: their crunch replaced the crisp edges of the mushrooms in the earlier version of the tart, and they were delicious.
The outcome was the same: everybody had seconds, and there wasn’t a crumb left for a bedtime snack.