I had lots of mushrooms and baby spinach in my refrigerator; both needed to go because I’d need the space for my mommy dinner ingredients. With the mushrooms, I knew I wanted to make a free form tart with pancetta, or a mushroom pasta– two recipes I’ve adapted from Giada’s cookbooks. I also had about a pound of baby spinach; I figured I would sauté that in some bacon lard with a little garlic and we’d call it a dinner.
When Ken was getting ready to leave this morning, I asked him if he wanted the mushroom tart or the pasta; he chose the tart because he loves the crunchy bits of pancetta mixed in with the mushrooms and cheese. He’s also a sucker for my flaky homemade pie crust (I don’t use Giada’s recipe). I mentioned I was going to make a side of sauteed spinach and he announced, “You haven’t made creamed spinach in a long time; you should make that instead.”
And so we have heart attack on a plate. After all the healthy soups, we can splurge for a night…
I don’t have an exact recipe for the creamed spinach, but I’ll show you what I did. Make the spinach while the tart bakes. My pie crust is based on trial-and-error and works for me; there are many variations on the basic 1:2:3 ratio, so if you have your own recipe, use that. (If not, buy the refrigerated dough)! Giada’s recipe is here. I’ve subsequently changed the amounts of ingredients (as in MORE) so it could qualify as an entree instead of a starter!
Creamed Spinach (measurements are approximate)
- 1 lb fresh baby spinach
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 1 TB butter
- 1 TB AP flour
- salt and pepper
- 1 c mix of milk and cream (or half and half or all milk if you want to try to be healthier)
- 1/4 c grated Parmesan
Heat the butter in a large pan. Cook the onions til translucent and pale yellow (do not brown).
Add the spinach, whole or torn. Season with salt and pepper. You’ll have to add the leaves in batches, waiting for the previous batch to cook down to make room for the next.
When the spinach has cooked down,
sprinkle the flour on top and stir to combine. Let the flour cook a minute or two. Add the milk mixture and stir, then add the nutmeg to taste. (Nutmeg is pretty strong, so start with just a pinch or two and go from there). Let the spinach simmer a bit to thicken; add more milk or cream if you need it.
Add the Parmesan and stir again. Correct seasoning and serve.
My Pie Crust
- 6 TB shortening (as in Crisco)
- 2 TB unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 c AP flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- ice water
Cut the butter into cubes and place it with the shortening in a small bowl. Refrigerate for at least an hour until both fats are well chilled. (I usually measure out several “batches” of fat and keep them in plastic sandwich bags or small tubs in my refrigerator).
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Add the chilled fats and, with a pastry cutter (the two knives thing does NOT work for me, but if you do that, fine), work the mixture until it resembles a coarse meal. It should look like this:
Slowly add the ice water; I use a fork and stir while adding about 1-2 TB of water at a time. Mix until the dough just pulls away from the sides of the bowl. You don’t want to over work it. You should see some pea-sized bits of butter, too.
Quickly pat the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 30 to 40 minutes until firm.
While the dough chills, make the filling.
Mushroom, Pancetta and Cheese Filling
- 4 oz (1/4 lb, about a 1/2-inch slice) of pancetta, fine dice
- 2 shallots, finely diced
- 1 lb of mushrooms, (assorted or otherwise– I was getting rid of cremini, but this tart is really good with a mix of fungi) cleaned and sliced
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- salt and pepper to taste
- olive oil for sauteing
- 3/4 c of grated cheese (I used fontina and smoked mozarrella, but have also done regular moz and gruyere– one of the cheeses needs to be a good melting cheese)
- 2-3 TB grated Parmesan
Here’s the prep:
Note: By “cleaning” the mushrooms, I mean gently wiping them off with a slightly damp paper towel or mushroom brush. DO NOT USE WATER! The mushrooms soak up the water and their flavor is diluted.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Heat some olive oil in a pan; when hot, add the diced pancetta and saute til brown and crispy. You can tell the pancetta is ready when there is very little sizzling. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels and set aside.
If needed, add more oil (I never need to do this). Add the chopped shallot; they will sizzle immediately in the hot oil. Stir for 30 seconds.
Add the mushrooms, stirring to evenly coat in the fat. The mushrooms will quickly soak up the fat and you’ll wonder what happened to all that oil, and if you need to add more– DON’T! In a few minutes, the mushrooms will begin to release their juices.
Season with salt and pepper and saute until the mushrooms have released all their juices, about 15 minutes.
Add the pancetta back to the pan as well as the dried thyme. Taste for seasoning, but don’t oversalt, because you’ll be adding cheese to this mix. Let cool for 10 minutes.
Add the grated cheese (not the Parmesan) and mix to combine. Set aside.
It should be time to take out the dough. Sprinkle your rolling surface with flour (don’t forget your rolling pin) and roll the dough out– preferably a circle, but this is a free-form pie, so don’t sweat it.
Roll the crust onto your rolling pin and unroll it onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Spread the filling within 2 inches of the crust edge,
then fold the edges over the filling. You may have to pinch cracks and tears together. Sprinkle with the grated Parmesan. Brush either cream or an egg wash (egg beaten with a little water) on the border.
Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes until filling is bubbly and crust is golden brown.
Let rest 5 minutes then cut into slices and serve.
As I said, heart attack on a plate…