Working in the culinary industry will introduce you to plenty of characters. One of my favorites is a chef buddy of mine-a giant of a man who stands about 6′ 5”, with bright red hair and a beard to match-he’s the spitting image of viking stock, passed down through generations. His name is Ross.
To boot, he’s obsessed with Viking history and all things medieval, and loves to tell anyone who’ll listen stories of epic viking battles, Middle Age lore, and how things “used to be”. I grew up reading fantasy literature, going to the Minnesota Renaissance festival, and doing reports on things like King Arthur and Druids, so needless to say, we got along great.
One night, we were doing some prep and somehow Ross got on the topic of European food before restaurants got established.
“You see Al, there didn’t use to be restaurants, there were roads with brigands and thieves, and here and there you could find an Inn. The inns brewed their own beer, and did everything in house. There wasn’t a menu, but they’d serve food, whatever they had. In the fall, they might serve a mushroom pie.”
Hence the recipe I’m about to share with you.
We had a great season for chanterelles in Minnesota this year, and a couple of times I had to preserve them en-masse to make sure I didn’t lose any. Preserving them is wonderful, but there is definitely something to be said for gorging yourself on seasonal ingredients too, so that’s what this mushroom pie is all about.
I call it a torte because it has two crusts. I suppose you could call it a pie, but generally I think of pies (and tarts) as having 1 crust on the bottom, with the occasional exception for apple and cherry pie. To me, torte is a little more grown up sounding that pie too, and I use it often to describe pie or cake like items on the restaurant menu.
Either way It’s seriously good eating, and would be just as home at a nice restaurant today as it would’ve been at an Inn hundreds of years ago.
Makes one 9 inch pie pan, enough to serve 6-8 people. Excellent served warm, hot, or room temperature with a salad of greens or dressed vegetables.
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1.5 teaspoon salt
- Pinch of fresh ground white pepper
- 12 tablespoons (1.5 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
- 1/4 cup ice water, or more if needed
- 1 lb ground pheasant (you can substitute chicken or turkey here)
- 1 cup leek, white part only, diced 1/4 inch
- 2 tablespoons shallot, diced 1/4 in
- 2 tablespoons flavorless oil, like grapeseed, for browning the meat
- 4 cups chanterelle scrap and trim (you can use slightly damaged mushrooms here)
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 2 cups homemade meat stock (I used a stock made from pheasant carcasses)
- 1 cup milk
- Wrap tightly in cheesecloth and tie with twine: 5 thyme sprigs, 2 fresh bay leaves, 10 black peppercorns, reserved leek greens, 2 cloves of garlic
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup good quality parmesan cheese
- Pinch of fresh grated nutmeg
- 1/2 lb small, firm chanterelles
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1/4 cup flavorless oil, for browning the chanterelles
First make the crust. Process the butter and all ingredients but the ice water in a food processor until they look like coarse meal. Drizzle in the ice water until the dough just comes together, then press into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate. Reserve the dough until needed.
For the ragu, heat the oil in a large, heavy pan, then brown the ground pheasant, season with salt and pepper, and remove. Add the vegetables and chanterelle scrap and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and caramelized. Deglaze the pan with the wine, then add the bouquet garni, browned pheasant, stock, and milk and bring to a simmer. Simmer the ragu, (but don’t boil it) for an hour or two, until you can see the bottom of the pan when you stir it, and most of the liquid has evaporated. Discard the bouquet garni and transfer the ragu to a bowl to cool.
For the filling, brown the small, firm chanterelles in the oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the chanterelles to the cooled meat ragu.
Meanwhile, heat the butter in a non-reactive sauce pot and add the flour, stirring with a wooden spoon to create a roux. Working in batches, gradually add the milk, whisking constantly. When all the milk has been added, stir in the cheese, then season the white sauce to taste with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Add the sauce to the chanterelle-ragu mixture, add the fresh thyme, and mix to combine. Finally, taste a bit of the filling and double check to see if it needs adjusting.
To bake the torte, heat an oven to 325. Roll out the dough between two sheets of parchment or wax paper until 1/4 inch thick, then, using the pan you will bake the torte in as a guide, cut out two circles of dough. Grease the pan lightly, then line the bottom with one circle of dough, making sure that it reaches up the edges. Press the dough into the pan, then add as much of the chanterelle filling as possible without overfilling (I had a tablespoon or so extra). Using your fingers, gently create a space between the edge of the pan and the crust with the filling in it so you can top the pie with the second circle of dough. Gently crimp the edges to seal, then cut a small cross in the middle to allow steam to escape. Bake the pie for 45 minutes, or until completely golden brown, then cool for 15 minutes before slicing.