For the first 7 or so years of my kitchen career, I was addicted to cooking Italian food. There’s a mystique about it that seemed to epitomize fancy to me as a kid, so making high cuisine must mean I have to be in an Italian restaurant, right?
Now I understand that Italian and French cuisine share a lot of similarities depending on the region, but back then I knew nothing. Everything was new and exciting, coming from a little town in Midwestern Minnesota where most restaurants served pre-prepared food from plastic bags.
A turning point for me after my first few years working for different guys from Italy was getting a job at Pazzaluna, which I thought of as one of the best Italian joints around. These days It’s glimmer has dimmed, mostly due to the fact that corporate money grubbing leaders refuse to let the chefs have complete control of the menu and do away with things like chicken parm and marsala that are pretty tired.
Back when I started there though things were white hot, and the new chef was the former personal chef to the princess of monaco (he’s since been fired for sexual harassment). On my station, the cold side, I was charged with setting up a rotating antipasti bar which I could change daily to my liking, a number of salads, desserts, and hot appetizers. It was a huge station, and if you didn’t have time to set up before service, you should’ve come in off the clock to make sure you were for ready.
I still remember most of the things on my station, but one hot appetizer stands out: a little tart filled with cheese served with sauce of veal glace and porcini mushrooms. The tarts had to all be made by hand, and par baked, then they were finished off a la minute to order. As far as pickups go, it was a long one, about 10-15 minutes depending on how prepared you were.
A couple years ago I decided I had to remake the little tart. I didn’t use homemade crust, I just used some puff pastry, but if you’re ambitious, feel free. The filling I modified a little, and gave a spring makeover with some ramp leaf puree to turn it green. Going with the spring theme, I switched the dried porcini mushrooms for dried morels. It turned out great, and made for a fun afternoon of remembering where I’ve come from, and looking forward to the future.
Ricotta-Ramp Tart With Morel Jus
Serves 2-4 as an appetizer
For the morel jus
- 2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
- 8 grams dried morel mushrooms
- 1 fresh or dried bay leaf
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Pinch of fresh chopped Italian parsley
For the ramp-ricotta tart
- 1/2 cup high quality ricotta cheese (my favorite brand is calabro)
- 1/4 cup high quality brie, with the rind, diced 1/2 inch
- 2 tablespoons pureed ramp leaves or ramp pesto (see a recipe for that here)
- Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
- Prepared puff pastry or your favorite pastry crust, as needed
- 1 egg, beaten
- The morel jus can be made well ahead of time, so do that first. Heat the stock with the wine, bay leaf and morels to loosen any natural gelatin which would prevent proper infusion of the morels. Add the dried morels to the warm stock and infuse for 20 minutes. Agitate the mushrooms to remove any grit, then remove, strain the stock through a chinois strainer and recombine the two, cutting the morels into bite size pieces if they’re too large. Reserve the morel infused stock.
- For the tart, mix the ricotta with the brie and ramp leaf puree, season to taste with salt and pepper and reserve. Roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thickness. Cut out two 6 inch or so rounds, then fill with the cheese, brushing egg around the edges to seal it. Put the other round of pastry on top of the cheese filling, then press down to remove any air pockets.
- To finish and plate, preheat the oven to 350. Brush the tart with beaten egg, then put on a piece of parchment and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until browned and hot throughout.
- Meanwhile, heat the morel just and reduce to about 1/4 cup of liquid. Whisk in the unsalted butter to thicken it slightly, then double check the seasoning for salt and adjust as needed, lastly add the parsley. The sauce should be creamy and thick enough to lightly coat the back of a spoon.
- Spoon the morel jus onto a preheated plate, then place the hot tart on top. Serve immediately