A great friend gave me a present this week — a copy of food writer M. F. K. Fisher’s 1968 book With Bold Knife and Fork. She’d spotted it in the window of a junk shop and knew I’d love it. The book fell open and my eyes fixed on the fabulous phrase ‘Mushrooms are friends of mine’.
At my first job interview to become a trainee journalist I was asked ‘Are you in love with words?’ It’s a question that was, and still is, impossible to answer. But I think there’s a case to say that the question ‘Are you friends with mushrooms?’ is even harder.
Mushroom and Chestnut Pies
These pies are spectacularly good and if left to go cold make the most perfect snack for a picnic — one of the great pleasures in life. I’d even go so far as to say that ‘picnics are friends of mine’.
4 large field mushrooms
Around 4 tablespoons olive oil
Small knob of butter
2 small red onions
1 clove garlic
2 sticks celery
Handful fresh thyme leaves
12 cooked chestnuts (optional, or you could use walnuts, but these too are optional)
Half teaspoon ground cumin
Half teaspoon fennel seeds
I ball mozzarella
20g cheddar or other hard cheese such as gruyere
1 tablespoon creme fraiche
Puff pastry sheet
Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C.
The idea of these pies is that the mushroom itself should form the base of the pie. The filling is both creamy and savoury, while the puff pastry on top is flaky and light.
With a pointed knife remove the stalks from the mushrooms, along with a frill of the gills. Chop finely and put to one side.
Finely chop the garlic and onions and fry them gently in the butter and olive oil, reserving a tablespoon of oil for later. Cook for five minutes until soft but not brown. Add the fennel seed and cumin and then the finely chopped celery and cook for a further five minutes. Add the finely chopped leek, the reserved chopped mushroom stalks, the crumbled chestnuts if using and the thyme leaves. Cook for another five minutes. Stir in the creme fraiche and season with salt and black pepper.
Put the remaining olive oil in the palm of your hand and smooth the bases of the mushrooms around your palm to coat them in oil. Place the mushrooms in a heatproof dish and heap the cooked mixture inside each one. Divide the two cheeses equally between the mushrooms and sprinkle over the top. Cook the mushrooms in the oven for fifteen minutes until the cheese is bubbling and melted. Cut the puff pastry sheet into circles the same size as each mushroom and place them on top. The mushrooms will vary in size — I found I needed to cut the pastry with a mug, a glass and a small measuring cup to get the circles to fit snugly. Brush beaten egg over the pastry. Replace the pastry-topped mushrooms in the oven and cook for a further fifteen minutes until the tops are golden and crisp. Allow to cool slightly and serve with a green salad.
What better friends could you have than mushrooms and someone who comes to the door bearing gifts?