Gazing into the garden while sipping my first coffee of the day, there is an Autumnal air about it. The early sunshine is just peaking over the rooftops, causing the dew laden lawn to shimmer in the sunlight & perfectly summing up the Summer.
August has been very much “all or nothing”, either a raging hot heatwave or shivering shade, deluge or drought, & nothing inbetween. The poor plants don’t seem to know which way to turn & our multi-tasking willow tree has been happily soaking up the excess water, whilst providing welcome cool shade to the local wildlife. There are baby olives on our little olive tree trying to ripen, green tomatoes just starting to blush red & a bounty of blackberries waiting patiently to be plucked. The garden seems to be clinging on by it’s very leaf-tips to the last days of Summer, as Autumn has quietly arrived & begun to unpack her colourful attire across the landscape.
Before Autumn settles in, there are some comforting meals we can indulge in to soften the seasonal switch. Fresh produce is all around us, just waiting to be turned into tasty transitional treats. Some of my best ideas come from mooching around the markets, shopping when everyone else is sat in traffic (or still in bed), & picking up some fabulous bargains. The early bird always catches her worm & although thankfully not very worm-like, earthy foods have caught my eye recently – the beautiful but humble mushroom.
Soft, light & flavoursome, mushrooms are one of the most versatile ingredients in cooking. They go with pretty much everything, adding both subtle & substantial flavour to dishes, & the variety is truly amazing! From the tiny to the tawny, closed cup or open, the frilly or the flat, these fabulous funghi are just waiting to be turned into delicious dishes!
As I wanted them to be the main attraction, I created my Champignon the Wonder Pie – a delicate mushroom & vegetable stew, tucked in under a crisp comforting blanket of buttery puff pastry. This is one of those lazy afternoon recipes to make, rather relaxing & a little therapeutic even. Although simple to make, there is going to be some prep involved – I hear you groaning, but I promise it’s all easy stuff, no mysterious ingredients & worth every minute when you taste the results.
Firstly, you’re going to need vegetable stock – use either a stock cube or fresh, whatever works best for you & the time you have available. I make my own & freeze it, as it uses up all the veg trimmings & you know what’s in it (too much salt & mushrooms = watery mess & a soggy pie). My easy vegetable stock recipe means no standing around watching pans either. You’ll need a couple of carrots, an onion, two celery sticks & a handful of fresh herbs (half a dozen Sage leaves, some sprigs of Thyme & a couple of Rosemary stems work well), along with any mushroom stems, parsnip, bean or pea trimmings – wash everything well to remove grit & dirt, then chuck them all in a roasting tin with 2-3 pints of cold water, a splash of olive oil & a few good grinds of black pepper & sea salt. Cover it with foil to seal in all the juices & bake at 200*C for just over an hour, then strain & that’s it. Use it fresh, stick it in the fridge for a couple of days or freeze it. Save the veggies to whizz up into soups or sauces & pour any leftovers into jars for the fridge or ice cube trays to freeze.
If you prefer, you can swap the vegetable stock for chicken stock (as long as your guests are not vegetarian) – both work well & it tastes just as lovely either way. A little bit of tasty trivia for you here: vegetable stock is actually a broth, as stock refers to a liquid that has bones cooked in it.
Next, although I have used two types of pastry (shortcrust for the base & puff for the lid), you could use shortcrust all over or just use shop-bought puff lids if time is limited – please make sure it’s proper all-butter puff to do your pie proud. If you do fancy having a go at making your own, here’s the link to my puff pastry recipe: https://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/puff-up-the-volume/ You will only need half the amount, so reduce the measurements accordingly. It’s easy to make & just needs an hour to rest in the fridge before rolling, so you could make this while the stock is in the oven.
Ready to bake it happen? Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!
What you need:
For the filling:
250g Mushrooms approx (I’ve used closed cup & flat but use what you like here)
1 stick of Celery
1 medium Carrot
1 medium Red Onion
2 tablespoons of Sweetcorn
100ml Vegetable Stock approx
25g Salted Butter
25g Plain Flour
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
For the base Pastry:
6oz Plain Flour, plus extra for rolling out & prepping your tin
2oz Salted Butter, plus extra for your tin
1 large Egg
A little cold water, about a tablespoon
4oz Puff Pastry (see link above to make fresh or buy all-butter puff pastry)
2 teaspoons grated Parmesan or Medium Cheddar
1 Egg & 2 tablespoons of Milk, whisked together to make egg wash
What to do:
Pre-heat the oven to 220*C & prepare a pie tin. I’ve used an 8″ square cake tin because it was handy. Smudge a little butter around the inside of the tin & then sprinkle with flour. Tip out the flour (save for rolling out) & set the tin aside.
Time to prepare your vegetables! Give them all a good wash in cold water & remove the onion outer skin. Top & tail all of them, chop finely & set aside.
Prepare the mushrooms next. Give them a good wipe with a damp cloth to remove any dirt or grit (if they’re small, use a pastry brush). Take out about half a dozen & set to one side whole. Chop the rest up finely & set aside too.
Heat a large frying pan or skillet. Add the butter & oil, mixing well until melted together.
Add the carrot, onion & celery, stirring well to coat in the oil butter mixture, then fry on a medium heat for 3 or 4 minutes. Give them a nudge around the pan from time to time, so they don’t catch & burn. You want them to soften slightly, but not go squishy.
Add the mushrooms & give everything a good stir fry for a couple of minutes.
Sprinkle in the plain flour around the pan & stir fry everything together until the flour has disappeared. This is going to make a roux in the pan, as it will absorb the butter & oil in the mixture, thickening everything up nicely.
Add the stock gradually & stir well into the mixture, making a smooth sauce. When everything is combined, turn off the pan.
Slice up the whole mushrooms you saved into bite-sized bits & stir them into the stew.
Make the base pastry by rubbing the butter into the flour. Add the egg & stir into the flour mixture using a metal spoon or knife. As it starts to come together, add a trickle of the cold water to form a soft dough.
Turn it out onto a floured surface, sprinkle a little flour on top & roll out until slightly larger than the size of your tin all around.
Flop the pastry over your rolling pin & carefully lift into the tin, draping it inside as you do so. Press gently into all the edges & leave a little hanging over the tin (to attach the puff pastry lid to later). Try using the end of the rolling pin for this, as it’s smooth & won’t tear your pastry.
Roll out the puff pastry to just over the size of your pie tin & set aside.
Tip the mushroom pie filling into the pastry lined tin & spread out well. Dip your finger in a cup of cold water & run it around the edge of the pastry.
Put the puff pastry lid on top & press the edges down to seal the pastry base to the lid. Prick all over with a fork or a sharp knife.
Brush with a little egg wash all over. If you want to make little pastry decorations with the leftover bit of puff, do that now & lay them on top, then brush them too (not too many though). Sprinkle with a little grated Parmesan.
Bake in the oven for about 25 -30 minutes, until thoroughly golden & the layers are starting to show at the edges. The sides of the pastry will come away from the tin slightly when it’s ready.
Put the pie tin on a cooling rack for a few moments to relax before serving. That’s it! Just get everyone around the table & dig in! Meaty but meatless, this mushroom-packed pastry goes well with either a generous scoop of cheesy mashed potatoes & steamed crisp vegetables, or a zesty green salad scattered with a few spots of aged Balsamic vinegar & toasted pine nuts. Slice it up cold for a luscious leftover lunch or freeze in slices for indulgent lazy suppers after a long day at work.
However you serve it, this crispy champignon-crammed pie is the perfect comfort food for chilly almost-Autumn evenings. Stay hungry! 😉 Aimee x