Sometimes I feel like a pretty lucky gal. You may recall a couple months ago when I mentioned a get-together with some new food friends? Well, one of these friends, Jarred, was recently able to procure a large amount of Bordeaux for a wine tasting drinking (as Christina & Molly more accurately put it on Twitter!). There were about 20 bottles of red Bordeaux, as well as a smattering of white wines, hard cider, etc. Jarred does the wine buying at Western Market in Ferndale, so the idea was to get a bunch of us tasting, and then hopefully buying, the wines in question. I think it was also to help him narrow down which wines to order from the distributors.
And so, a couple Fridays ago, some of the GUDetroit gang descended on Jarred & Dawn’s Ferndale apartment, bearing an assortment of wine-loving foods. I knew many people were bringing cheese and/or charcuterie, and Jarred had also snagged some grass-fed local steaks for the grill, so I asked what else I could bring to round out the selection. Jarred wisely suggested something with mushrooms- their earthy flavors would be a nice complement to the wine. I immediately thought “mushroom tart!”- some sautéed mushrooms, with some herbs from the garden, would be just the thing.
I started off by making a cornmeal crust- I wanted a little crunch in case the mushrooms made the dough soggy at all (luckily they didn’t). I sautéed a copious amount of mushrooms with some shallots and herbs and a splash of sherry, adding some dried porcinis for extra mushroomy depth. I added some cream and egg at the end, not enough to make a quiche-like custard, but just enough to bind the mushrooms and make the tart more sliceable. A dusting of Parmigiano before the tart went in the oven was the final touch. The result was pretty much just what I had hoped for.
As for those wines? Where to begin- I was pretty overwhelmed, and was mostly just taking suggestions from others who were a little better informed or who had thought to bring notepads to take notes! A few I recall enjoying in particular were Château La Fleur Plaisance (Montagne St-Emilion, 2006), Château Liversan (Haut-Médoc, 2006) and Château Cabannieux (Graves, 2005). (Mind you, I tasted many, many wines and these are just a couple I happened to jot down!) All of the wines improved noticeably as the evening wore on and they had time to open up, but these are wines to cellar for at least a few more years before they’ll reach their full potential. (That becomes problematic in my household, where the notion of a bottle of wine hanging around for more than a week or so is unheard of!) For more detailed descriptions of the wines, check out this post by Gang of Pour.
Thanks again to Jarred & Dawn for their excellent hosting skills and to the folks at Western Market for their generosity; I’ll definitely be heading there next time I have a few bucks to spend on a nice bottle or two. For the size of the store, they are really doing a great job on their wine department, with a focus on organic and natural wines. This wine tasting (er, drinking!) really inspired and motivated me to start taking more notes and to build a cellar. I also have to give a shout-out to George & Kim from Gang of Pour and to Putnam, all of whose wine knowledge and enthusiasm is contagious.
Mushroom & Herb Tart with Cornmeal Crust
1 pre-baked Cornmeal Tart Crust (recipe follows, or you could use the slightly different cornmeal crust from this post)
1 ½ lbs mushrooms, peeled and sliced (you can use any combination of button mushrooms, portabellas, cremini, etc; I used mostly regular mushrooms with a few portabellas thrown in)
2 shallots, minced
about 3 Tbs minced fresh herbs of your choice- I used sage, thyme & marjoram
about 1/3 cup dry sherry
1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
about 1 ½ cups boiling water
a few Tbs butter for sautéing
½ cup heavy cream
salt & pepper
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano or other hard grating cheese
Put some water on to boil. Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and pour boiling water over them; cover with a lid or plate and set aside.
Melt a knob of butter in a large, shallow skillet over medium heat. When melted, add half the shallots and half the mushrooms; increase the heat slightly (you need to do the mushrooms in two batches to avoid overcrowding). As the mushrooms absorb the butter and the pan becomes dry, lightly salt the mushrooms so they release a little of their juice. About halfway through the cooking, add half the sherry. Saute the mushrooms until golden and cooked through, increasing the heat if necessary so the liquid evaporates. Remove the mushrooms from the pan; set aside.
Wipe the pan and repeat the process with the second batch of mushrooms. While they are cooking, remove the dried mushrooms carefully from the water and chop roughly. (The mushroom liquid may be strained and reserved for use in a soup or to deglaze a pan.) Throw them in the pan. When the mushrooms are close to done, add the herbs and cook for a moment longer. Add the first batch of mushrooms back into the pan and stir well. Remove from heat. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs and cream. Season with salt and pepper (I like to add a little nutmeg too, but it’s optional.) Pour over the mushrooms and stir to combine (if filling is very hot, wait a few moments so the eggs don’t become scrambled). Put the filling in the pre-baked tart shell. Grate a light layer of cheese over the top. Cook at 375° for about 15 minutes or until the filling has set. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes enough for two 9″-10″ tarts
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 sticks butter
¼ to ½ cup ice water as needed
Cut the butter into small pieces and set in a bowl in the freezer to firm up for a couple minutes. Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal with a few larger pieces remaining. Add the ice water in a thin stream while running the processor, just until the dough comes together (no more than 30 seconds). Take care to only add as much water as needed so the dough does not become pasty and sticky. Divide in half and wrap each half in plastic. Let rest in the fridge for an hour before rolling out.
To pre-bake the crust, heat the oven to 375°. Roll out the dough and place in a 9″ or 10″ tart pan with a removable bottom. Place a layer of foil over the crust and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for about 25 minutes or until crust is just beginning to turn golden. Let cool slightly before removing the weights and foil. (This dough can also be used for fruit tarts/crostatas; Martha instructs cooking it for an hour with the filling rather than pre-baking it.)
My dad grew up on a Michigan farm, and has been hunting for most of his life. Even though he has a decidedly white-collar profession and hasn’t lived anywhere near a farm in decades, he still enjoys going deer hunting every chance he gets. I would often go hunting with him as a little girl, practicing with a toy bow and arrow set in the backyard and eagerly looking forward to being old enough to get my hunting license. Of course, by the time I actually reached that age, we had moved to suburbia and I was more interested in my sticker collection than hunting. But I still have fond memories of the one-on-one time spent enjoying nature and my dad’s company.
Ironically, although I enjoyed the hunting excursions, I hated venison as a kid. My mom would try to sneak it into recipes, but we always knew what it was and there was lots of whining at the dinner table on those occasions from myself and my siblings. Luckily, my tastes have matured and I now enjoy venison quite a bit. It doesn’t have the ferrous aftertaste I recall being turned off by as a kid- I don’t know if it’s a matter of kids having more “sensitive” taste buds, or if the venison I’ve had recently just happens to be milder due to the deer’s diet. Whatever the case, I have been enjoying the bounty that has been thrown my way- my dad has gotten 8 deer so far this year, and sent me home from my Thanksgiving visit with a couple packages of salami sticks and about 6 lbs of frozen ground venison. My goal is to create 6 different recipes and blog about them all- I figure I can’t be the only one with a bunch of venison in their freezer, and perhaps people are looking for some new ideas. I’d like to create recipes that compliment venison’s unique flavor, rather than try to mask it or pass it off as a ground beef substitute.
With that in mind, I present you with this first installment in “The Venison Diaries”. I made an Italian-style ragù (i.e. meat sauce) using techniques from The Splendid Table, enhancing the earthy flavor of the meat with cognac and porcini mushrooms (or cèpes, for all you francophones). Venison is an extremely lean meat, so don’t feel guilty about the pancetta and butter in this recipe! I also added a smidge of ground pork and veal to round out the flavor and texture, as ground venison can tend to be a bit dry and crumbly on its own. Simmering the meat in milk, as in some versions of the classic sauce Bolognese, also helped keep things tender, and gave body to the sauce. The results were just as I’d hoped- deeply savory and rich, and perfect with thick noodles and a sturdy red wine.
Venison & Porcini Mushroom Ragù
1 lb ground venison
¼ lb ground pork
¼ lb ground veal
2 oz. pancetta (as for a slice about ⅓” thick), diced small
1 medium carrot, diced small
½ stick celery, diced small
1 large shallot, minced
1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
⅓ cup cognac
1 cup whole milk
1 Tbs tomato paste
1 Tbs butter
1½ tsp minced fresh rosemary
1½ tsp thyme leaves
4-6 sage leaves, minced
salt & pepper
tagliatelli or egg noodles
grated Parmigiano or Grana Padana
minced fresh parsley (optional)
Notes: If you don’t have all the fresh herbs and don’t want to spend the money, I’d at least go with the thyme. If you don’t have cognac you could substitute red wine and just use a bit more, like ½ to ¾ cup. But a little cognac is always a good thing to have on hand for impromptu pan sauces or the occasional after-dinner nip.
Directions: Bring about 2 cups water to a boil. Place dried porcinis in a bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Cover and let stand for at least 10-15 minutes. When mushrooms are softened, remove them gently so as not to disturb the grit at the bottom of the dish. Set mushrooms aside and strain the soaking liquid through a coffee filter; reserve 1½ cups.
Place the venison, pork and veal into a large bowl. Season generously with salt & pepper and mix with a wooden spoon until the meats are well incorporated.
In a large skillet or Dutch oven, sauté the pancetta over medium heat for a few minutes until it begins to render some of its fat. Add up to 1 Tbs butter as needed so that there is enough fat in the pan to cook the vegetables. Add the shallot, carrot and celery and cook until the carrots begin to soften, stirring often.
Increase the heat slightly and add the meat to the pan. Cook the meat, stirring and breaking it up gently, until you no longer see any liquid in the bottom of the pan; this could take up to 15 minutes. Reduce heat slightly and cook for a few more minutes to give the meat a chance to brown. Stir in the tomato paste, herbs and mushrooms.
Add the cognac and simmer until the liquid has evaporated, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze it. Add the mushroom broth ½ cup at a time, letting it cook off before adding more. Add the milk and simmer gently, uncovered, for about 30 minutes or until the sauce has thickened enough to coat a noodle. Taste for salt, adding as needed.
Serve over tagliatelli or egg noodles with a dusting of cheese and a pinch of fresh parsley.