Looking out the window today, all I could see was rain, rain and more rain. It’s one of those January days where you want to be creative. Dazed by the weather, I was suddenly transported to Italy, reminiscing on past holidays. Rome is one of my favourite romantic cities and I was taken back to the time my husband and I had a beautiful honeymoon there. One hot evening, after a long day of taking in the city, that moment at dusk when you don’t know if you should go back to the hotel and change or go straight to a restaurant, we stumbled onto a little hidden Piazza with an unremarkable looking winebar. As it was early we were the only guests. We ordered two glasses of Brunello and asked if they had anything to serve it with, some salty little snacks perhaps. And they sure did. The most gorgeous tartlets with porcini mushrooms, onion, fennel (I think). Somehow these little tartlets popped up in my mind today and I made a version of them for the two of us. For a brief moment we were back in Rome. Food really can take you places.
Ingredients (serves 4):
4-5 Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and sliced into rondelles (round slices)
1 fennel, sliced
1 onion, sliced
1 garlic clove, sliced finely
450 g/ 1 pound cèpes/porcini mushrooms (I used the cèpes I picked and froze this fall. You can use any of favourite mushrooms/dried mushrooms)
1 glass of red wine
A handful of chopped fresh parsley
1 roll puff pastry (230 g/ 1/2 pound) or you can make your home-made version here
Olive oil (for frying)
30 g/ 2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 slices of country bread (discard the crust, place the bread in a food processor to get breadcrumbs)
Coarse salt and black pepper
Peel Jerusalem artichokes, slice them into rondelles/round slices. Slice fennel coarsely. In a frying pan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil, fry the vegetables on a medium heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently. Season with coarse salt and pepper. The vegetables should be cooked yet on the crunchy side.
Preheat the oven to 180 °C/ 350°F.
Prepare the pastry base. Cut out 4 circles with a pastry cutter (I use a bowl to draw the circles) of approx 10-12 cm (3-5 inches). Prick pastry with a fork all over, place on a parchment-lined baking tray, and cover with a another piece of parchment paper. To avoid them to puff up too much, place another baking tray on top (or any rectangle shaped cake tin, grill etc) for 10 minutes. Then remove the parchment paper with the added weight and bake them bare for another 6-7 minutes, or until golden.
While the pastry is in the oven, heat some olive oil and start frying the chopped onion and garlic for 5 minutes on a medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs and continue frying (add a bit of olive oil if it is too dry) until all the ingredients are golden and slightly crunchy. Set aside.
Chop the mushrooms finely, save 2 or 3 full mushrooms to garnish in the end. In a frying pan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil, fry the mushrooms for 5 minutes, season with salt and pepper, add red wine and leave to reduce for about 2 minutes. Set aside. Fry the remaining mushrooms (coarsely chopped) for a few minutes in 1 tbsp butter.
When the pastry is ready, garnish with the red wine mushrooms, followed by the Jerusalem artichokes and fennel, a few coarsely chopped mushrooms. Return to oven for 2 minutes, just to reheat slightly. Garnish with fresh parsley, a small pinch of coarse salt and parmesan shavings. Serve immediately.