OMG I’ve got a vegan coming for Christmas….

Well actually I don’t, but I’ve heard words to this effect coming from several anxious mouths over the last few weeks. Don’t panic. There is a most fantastic recipe for a three mushroom tartlet with cep sauce in my Bill’s Kitchen cookbook.

When I was doing the Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for the book one of the ‘rewards’ I offered for backers of the book was a dinner for 20 featuring recipes from the book. My pal Paddy bought one of these dinners and offered his friends a choice of the slow-cooked beef brisket in red wine or the three mushroom tartlet. The split was roughly 50/50 which surprised and delighted me because this was basically a group of omnivores: people choosing a vegan dish because is sounded delicious not because of dietary rules! And they weren’t disappointed.

Three mushroom tartlet with a roast garlic and pine nut base, with a cep sauce,

There’s a few stages to making this recipe but each stage is pretty straightforward.

You can use various wild mushrooms – pieds de mouton are especially good if you can get hold of them. I have specified these three varieties both because they taste really good, and because they are all cultivated and therefore relatively easy to get hold of.

If you want to get ahead of yourself, the tartlet cases and the pine nut puree for the tartlets can be made the day before but the tartlets should not be put together until shortly before they are going to be heated or they will go a bit soggy. In this photo I’ve served the tartlet with the cep sauce, savoy cabbage and roast parsnips. If you’re really hungry you could add some mash, with or without celeriac.

Serves 4

250g wholemeal pastry (see page 67 of Bill’s Kitchen cookbook)

4 cloves garlic
40g pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 branch fresh thyme, stripped
1 tbs lemon juice
35 ml water
¼ tsp salt

2 tbs sunflower oil
175 g field mushrooms, cut into large chunks
175 g oyster mushrooms
175 g shitake mushrooms
Good pinch of salt for each batch of mushrooms

Pre-heat the oven to 160C  (fan).  Roll out the pastry very thinly and line the tartlet tins being careful not to stretch it or it will shrink when cooked. Use either baking beans or an identical tarlet tin to weight the pastry so that it doesn’t puff up during baking. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is just cooked and barely beginning to brown.

Break the bulb of garlic into cloves but do not peel them. Spread out on to a baking sheet and put in the oven for about 20 minutes until they smell nutty and are a little soft when prodded. Allow them to cool and then peel them.

Put the peeled, baked garlic in a blender with the toasted pine nuts, lemon juice, water, fresh thyme and salt. Whizz until smooth and then taste. You are looking for something quite assertive as it goes on in quite a thin layer. Adjust the seasoning with extra lemon juice or salt as necessary.

Next fry the mushrooms. They need to be fried in small batches on a high heat and you should season each batch as you go. If you try to fry too many at once or over too low a heat they will sweat and go slimy, whereas you want them slightly browned and tender. The pan should remain fairly dry as you fry.

When all the mushrooms are fried you are ready to assemble the tarts. Divide the pine nut mixture between the blind-baked tartlet cases and spread it evenly over the base. Arrange the fried mushrooms on top, starting with the field mushrooms, then the oyster mushrooms and lastly the shitake mushrooms arranged bottom up.

Before serving, pre-heat the oven to 160C (fan) and place the tartlets on a baking sheet in the oven for about 15 minutes until piping hot.

Cep sauce

This sauce can happily be made a day or two in advance. Arrowroot is a useful alternative sauce thickener to be aware of as it’s gluten free.

25 g dried ceps
200 ml hot water, for soaking the ceps

1 dsp sunflower oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
¼ small chilli, finely chopped, without the seeds
¼ tsp salt
100 g field mushrooms, finely diced
125 ml red wine
2 tsp soy sauce
½ tsp sugar

1 tsp arrowroot
Cold water to mix

Soak the ceps in the hot water for about 30 minutes.

In a saucepan, sweat the onion, garlic and chilli and in the sunflower oil until soft. Add the diced field mushrooms and keep cooking until the mushrooms are soft and have given off their juice. Add the wine and soy sauce. With a slotted spoon, take the ceps from their liquid and add them. Strain the liquid from the ceps through a fine sieve and add that also. Bring everything to the boil and simmer for about five minutes with the lid off, allowing the sauce to reduce a little.

Mix the arrowroot with a few drops of cold water and add half of it to the sauce. Bring back to the boil, stirring well. If you would like the sauce to be thicker, repeat the process with the rest of the arrowroot mixture, otherwise leave it as it is. Check the seasoning.