Every spring, I promise I’m going to share a recipe for chopped liver. And every year I lose steam, perhaps because there are probably few more divisive foods than organs, or maybe because my instructions on the matter are quite short: just make Ina Garten’s. Ina can do no wrong, and I like to amuse myself by imagining that I’m only eight bestselling cookbooks and three homes in two countries away from basically being her when I grow up. (Sure Deb. Okay.)
But I like this year’s distraction the most, which came from me wondering what a vegetarian chopped liver might entail. The first thing it would need to do is lose the word liver, so not to scare away children of any age. Second, I hoped it would embrace rather humble ingredients like mushrooms that when cooked down to concentrated nubs, pack an unexpectedly fragrant and earthy complexity. And finally, although there are recipes for wild mushroom pâté from one end of the web to the other, I was hoping it would have a Jewish/Eastern European vibe, reminiscent of the promised chopped liver — rich, ample browned onions, making use of hard-boiled eggs, and served on matzo crackers, likely with pickles.
Now, I realize that most of us probably do not have a pâté-shaped hole in our lives. Most of us do not have champagne and melba toast happy hours on the reg; this isn’t Heathers. But, when you move pâté past its usual residence in an appetizers course, I find a jar of this in the fridge to be a surprisingly useful and flavorful condiment. Last night, we tossed it with some pasta, its cooking water and pecorino for deeply flavorful dinner, along with an arugula salad (and steamed broccoli for you-know-who). Today, it’s going to reinvent itself as a sandwich spread, maybe with sliced hard-boiled eggs or just lettuce and goat cheese. I could imagine stirring it into a simple risotto at the end, folding it into a breakfast crêpe, or dolloping it on a white three-cheese pizza right before baking.
And while, if all goes well, you’re basically going to end up with the home cook’s dread — a mound of brown food — I couldn’t help but notice that there’s something decidedly spring-like about it. It looks like, well, potted dirt, with some hopeful sprigs of weeds, tufts of yellow mimosas, pinkish rings of pickled shallot. I’ll take it.
One year ago: Three-Bean Chili
Two years ago: Lentil and Chickpea Salad with Feta and Tahini
Three years ago: Raspberry Coconut Macaroons
Four years ago: Spaetzle
Five years ago: Hazelnut Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies and Baked Kale Chips
Six years ago: Homemade Chocolate Wafers + Icebox Cupcakes
Seven years ago: Swiss Easter Rice Tart
Eight years ago: Mixed Berry Pavlova
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: The Crispy Egg
1.5 Years Ago: Frico Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
2.5 Years Ago: Spaghetti with Broccoli Cream Pesto
3.5 Years Ago: Apple and Honey Challah
Wild Mushroom Pâté
I used a mix of mostly cremini (baby bella or brown) mushrooms, plus oyster and chanterelle. Use whatever mushrooms you can find that you like the flavor of, or, feel free to use just brown mushrooms; you’ll still get a lot of flavor. This is a flexible recipe; you’ll probably be just fine if you don’t have any dried porcini or cepe, although I do love the extra oomph of flavor here. If you need to skip the alcohol, the pocini stock alone should give you enough flavor that you might not miss it terribly. But, of course, we liked this best as written below.
Yield: 2 cups pâté
1 ounce dried porcini or cepe mushrooms
1 cup boiling water
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1 1/2 cups diced yellow onion or a combination of chopped onions and shallots (I used 1 cup onion, 1/2 cup shallots)
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 1/2 pounds mixed fresh mushrooms, any tough stems discarded and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (use half if dry)
1/4 cup Madeira, Marsala or sherry, or 1/2 cup white wine
Crackers or matzo, sieved hard-boiled egg, chopped flat-leaf parsley and/or chives, small pickles or cornichons, additional caramelized onions or pickled shallots or red onions (recipe below)
Combine dried mushrooms and boiling water in a small bowl and let soak for 30 minutes. Remove mushrooms, finely chop and set aside. Strain soaking liquid through a paper towel or coffee filter to remove any grit and set it aside.
Heat olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Add onions and shallots, if using, and cook for 7 to 8 minutes, until they brown at the edges. Raise heat to high and add fresh mushrooms, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook, sauteeing, until mushrooms brown further and release their liquid. Cook until all of the liquid has evaporated, then add Madeira, Marsala, sherry or wine and do the same. Add rehydrated mushrooms and their soaking liquid, and cook this almost completely off. No liquid should run into the center if you drag your spoon through the mushrooms, clearing a path. Adjust seasonings to taste — seasoning is everything here — then stir in last tablespoon of butter.
Let mixture cool to lukewarm, then blend in a food processor or blender until desired consistency — I like mine almost but not completely smooth, although pâté is traditionally very smooth. Let chill in fridge for a few hours before serving, giving the flavors a chance to settle. Pâté keep in fridge for 5 days, in an airtight container.
Serve with crackers and garnishes of your choice. To make an egg “mimosa”, peel a fully cooled hard-boiled egg. I like to cut mine into quarters and press each quarter, yolk side down, through a fine-mesh sieve until the flecks of egg fall decoratively on top. To pickle red onions or shallots, combine 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup cold water, 1 tablespoon kosher salt and 1 tablespoon granulated sugar in a jar. Add thinly sliced onion or shallot and cover with lid; let pickle in fridge ideally for at least an hour. Pickled onions will keep for two weeks in the fridge.