I had been dreaming of creating a lovely spelt and rosemary pastry that would delicately fold over a filling of creamy ricotta and brightly coloured rainbow chard, a good grating of pecorino folded through for that extra bite, for some time.
The mushrooms would be gently pan-fried in butter and a little olive oil until golden, filling the kitchen with that wonderful earthy-nutty aroma that would have my fingers pinching those little golden nuggets straight from the pan and popping them straight into my mouth!
I remember that the dark clouds outside were warning of the rain to come and the crostata was cooling on the stove top, teasing me to go over and pick a little of the buttery, golden crust off. I restrained myself, waiting to enjoy it for dinner that night.
Walking past the large timber crates full of rosy-cheeked apples that are piled up in paper bags, shaded by the large sunny-yellow umbrellas which stand tall at the entrance of the big shed that is home to an array of colourful, seasonal and inspirational produce at Torello Farm on the Mornington Peninsula, I am in my happy place.
My eyes open wide to the endless possibilities and I so enjoy taking my time to peruse the produce laden shelves. My eyes dance from rusty coloured potatoes to vibrant green spears of asparagus; multicoloured stems of rainbow chard and tight little bundles of radish who poke their little 'noses' out from beneath their soft green tops.
On this particular day, at Torello Farm, it was the last remaining punnets of shitake mushrooms, lovingly grown by local lady, Jess from Mushroom Forestry that caught my eye and found a place at the top of my basket. I had been waiting desperately to get my hands on these little gems.
For anyone that knows me, knows that I have a real weakness and a great love for pastry. Not only in the eating of it but in the making and creating of it too. I do so enjoy rubbing the butter into the flour and allowing myself to be still, standing at my kitchen bench as my mind wanders off into dream after dream after dream.....
I do hope that if you have a go at creating this recipe that you too will find yourself in that slow, happy place and find pleasure in those simple things.
Mushroom, ricotta & blue cheese crostata
For the pastry–
250g stoneground spelt flour (or plain flour)
Pinch of salt
180g unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1 egg yolk
Approx. 60 ml iced water (you may need a little less or a little more depending on how thirsty your flour is)
One sprig of rosemary, leaves stripped so that you get about 1 tablespoon
In a medium sized bowl, place your flour, salt and butter in and rub the butter in with your fingertips until you have combined it well. Its ok if you find that there are still some chunks of butter, these will roll out when it comes time. Add the yolk, give it a little bit of a stir with your hand and then add the iced water, bit by bit until your dough comes together. Place onto a lightly floured bench and shape into a ball, flatten slightly and pinch together any cracks. It should be lovely and smooth. Place the rosemary leaves on top and Wrap tightly in cling film and pop into the fridge for at least an hour. You could also make the pastry a few days in advance. Just take it out at least an hour before so that it comes back to room temperature.
For the filling –
2 tablespoons olive oil
500g rainbow chard, rinsed. Stalks trimmed and sliced. Leaves roughly chopped.
2 brown onions sliced
1 punnet of shitake mushroom (I used Mushroom Forestry mushrooms)
25g unsalted butter
2 free range eggs
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
1 ½ teaspoons preserved lemon, diced (you could use lemon zest, but I think the flavour of the preserved lemons is lovely)
A good handful of chopped parsley
1 teaspoon thyme chopped
50g pecorino, grated
50g Danish blue cheese
Pinch salt and a good grinding of black pepper
In a large fry pan that has a lid, heat the oil over medium heat. Cook the onions and the chard stems until the onions are starting to colour. Add half of the mushrooms and the teaspoon of thyme, stirring every now and then for about 3 minutes, Add the chard leaves and pop the lid on to steam until the leaves have wilted. Remove from the heat and let cool.
Pre-heat your oven to 200c. Prepare a 30cm round pizza tray with a sheet of baking paper. Or alternatively you can just use a baking tray.
Cook the remaining mushrooms in a little oil and a knob of butter for around 3 minutes, over a low heat. Set aside. You will use these to scatter over the top.
Once the chard and mushroom mix is cool, add to a large bowl along with the ricotta, pine nuts, eggs, lemon, parsley, pecorino and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.
On a lightly floured bench, roll your pastry out so that it is a bit larger than pizza tray. You want it to overhang slightly as you will turn this up and over to create a border. Once you start rolling, pick up the pastry every now and then to make sure it doesn’t stick to the bench, add more flour if you need, but be careful as you don’t want it to be too dry. Your rosemary leaves will “blend” in as you roll too. Carefully place onto your tray.
Spoon the ricotta mix into the centre of the pastry, then using the back of a spoon or a palette knife, spread it evenly over, leaving about a 2cm border right around. Crumble over the blue cheese. Carefully pick up some of the overhanging pastry and simply fold it back over on top of the filling. You should end up with a lovely pleated border the whole way around. Place the remaining mushrooms on top.
Pop into the oven, starting on the bottom shelf first (this helps to cook the base better) bake for 15 minutes, then place on to the middle shelf for another 15 minutes or until its golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 15 minutes.
Its lovely served with a simple green salad dressed in olive oil, Dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar and a little salt and pepper.
Leftovers heated in the oven the next day are quite delicious too.