Autumn is one of my favourite times of the year. Not for its golden glow of (hopefully) slowly diminishing sunshine, the firework display of leaf colours as trees begin to hunker down for winter, nor for the scent of woodsmoke and the first warming fires. No, my delight in autumn is in the fabulous wild fungi that now begin to appear in earnest. I so wish I had the courage to forage for them. The notion of a walk in the woods resulting in a basket full of beautiful, flavoursome mushrooms for free is a seductive one, the very essence of the season for me, but I don't have the nerve to go it alone in the face of the several forest fungi that could see me shuffle off this mortal coil if I picked, cooked and greedily devoured them. So I invariably, but wistfully and happily, end up forking out basket-sized wads of cash at farmers' markets and the like for punnets of girolles or chanterelles (my favourites) or, on a particularly spendthrift day, plump, fresh penny buns, revered in Italy as porcini and in France as ceps.
This recipe lists more easily accessible nonetheless delicious varieties obtainable from the supermarket, but do swap them for all sorts of wilder versions if you can lay your hands on them, it is so worth it. Here I supplement them with the gentle smokiness of bacon but you can leave that out if you like, and the cheese brings a savoury depth to the dish that works beautifully with the mushrooms. The seasonal chestnuts have a wonderful sweetness and texture to complement the meaty mushrooms.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 shallots or 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 4 slices streaky smoked bacon or pancetta (optional)
- 140g Portobello mushrooms, sliced
- 120g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
- 125g cooked and peeled chestnuts, roughly chopped
- 50ml sherry, Madeira or Marsala
- 3-4 drops Worcestershire sauce (leave this out if vegetarian)
- 1 heaped tbsp chopped fresh thyme (2 tsp if using dried thyme)
- 1 heaped tbsp chopped parsley
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 heaped tbsp full-fat crème fraîche
- 80g Brie or Camembert or Tunworth cheese, cut into thin slices (We used a lovely British cheese called Ogleshield most recently, deliciously similar to Raclette, but most soft or semi-soft cheeses would work)
- 500g pack of puff pastry (by all means use shortcrust, flaky etc. if you prefer)
- 1 small egg, beaten
- Pre-heat the oven to 190°C/170°C fan. Heat half the oil in a frying pan over a low to moderate heat and add the finely chopped shallots and bacon. Sauté gently for about 10 minutes until the onions are soft.
- Add the remaining oil and the mixed mushrooms and cook them, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and the juices have run. Add the thyme, sherry, Worcestershire sauce and roughly chopped chestnuts and cook for a further 10 minutes or so, stirring frequently, until the wine and any remaining mushroom juices have been sucked up by the mushrooms or has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the crème fraîche and the parsley, ensuring the former is well mixed in, and cook for a few more minutes.
- Leave this to cool completely.
- Roll out the pastry to a thickness of about a £1 pound coin. Divide the pastry into four rounds, about 8 inches/20cm across (I used a side plate as a guide). Lay out the discs on a non-stick or baking parchment-lined baking tray and place in the fridge to chill for half an hour.
- Once the pastry discs and the mushroom mixture are chilled, pile a quarter of the mushroom mixture onto half of each disc, leaving half an inch or so around the edge the edge. Lay the thin slices of cheese over the mushroom mixture pile.
- Brush the edge of the disc with beaten egg and then fold over to form a pasty shape, making sure you cup your hand around it to expel any air as you enclose the mixture, pressing gently to seal. Make sure that you get a good seal. Crimp for a prettier edge if you are so inclined. I can't crimp to save my life so I use the tines of a fork to gently press down and pattern the edge instead. Repeat for each disc of pastry.
- Brush the pasties with more egg and scatter over a few sea salt flakes and bake for 25-30 minutes until crisp and golden. They are ready to serve then, but a few minutes resting will mean the filling won't be burning hot on the first bite!
- If you like, you could swap the chestnuts for shredded roast chicken, pheasant, cooked venison, beef, walnuts, halloumi cubes and so on. The possibilities might not be endless, but you can really play with the idea.
The earthy depth of the mushrooms and the savoury funk of the cheese here demand a relatively robust white wine, if white is where you want to go. Chardonnay with a bit more weight and ripe, round fruit like a generous, California version would work, as would the deliciously nutty but fruity balance of white Rioja. Most white wines that have good fruit and a little well-judged oak will have the wherewithal to stand with the dish. Finally, push the boat out with the nutty spice of a Jura savagnin or vin jaune for a fascinatingly delicious match with the earthy mushrooms and chestnuts. Finally, and a little more unusually, sherry is criminally underrated as a partner to food and a fino, manzanilla or richer, darker but dry palo cortado would be lovely with all the elements of the dish.
The dish will suit reds of all sorts. Perhaps the delicious fruit and spice of Rhône red from north or south, a bold Italian aglianico or a structured Bordeaux red would work well with the meaty mushrooms here. Nebbiolo is a grape that would work well here, and a treat of a Barolo or Barbaresco with a just a little age to mellow it would be delicious. My personal favourite with mushrooms has always been pinot noir, perhaps with some southern hemisphere ripeness, or something that has taken on a slightly more gamey, earthy note of its own with a little maturity. A Rioja in the old leathery style can also work for its freshness too.