It's mushroom season! Image by silviarita from Pixabay

If you are in Piemonte right now, you are probably enjoying Porcini or if you are very fortunate, white truffles, one of life’s supreme luxuries.  Fall is mushroom time.

Here in the U.S. we can enjoy many varieties, from white cultivated button mushrooms to Cremini, Portobello, all the way to beauties such as Oysters and Porcini.  But the cremini are particularly nice right now and altogether affordable.  Their meaty consistency and hearty flavor make them particularly attractive.
Try them as a base for this light, but satisfying soup.  If all you know is canned mushroom soup, you are in for a treat.  Full of mushroom flavor and winter vegetables, this makes a delightful dinner on its own, or a first course for a larger meal.  You can dress this soup up with a dollop of mascarpone at service or even add 1/4 cup of Cognac or Marsala.
And this savory Crostata di Cremini will make you rethink crostate altogether.  No longer will you make them only for dessert.  The all butter pastry is a breeze to work with, and the rich flavor of the mushrooms combines beautifully with Marsala, Sicily’s fortified wine.  Add a nutmeg infused custard, Italian Fontina and Parmigiano, and you have a savory delight.  Serve this hot or at room temperature with a green salad and Pinot Grigio for a light, yet tasty supper.
Zuppa di Cremini – Mushroom Soup

•makes about 1 1/4 quarts
•12 ounces Cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced thinly
•1 small onion, minced
•1 Yukon Gold potato, peeled, cut in 1/4 inch cubes
•1 carrot, finely diced
•1 celery stalk, finely diced
•1 clove garlic, minced
•1 quart brodo di pollo (chicken stock)
•1 teaspoon Nepitella leaves, chopped, plus sprigs for garnish OR 1/2 teaspoon each mint and oregano, chopped, plus extra sprigs for garnish
•2 tablespoons olive oil
•salt and pepper
Heat oil in medium saucepan.  Add onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Saute over medium heat until translucent, about 8 minutes.  Add potato, carrot, celery and garlic.  Saute until lightly caramelized, about 15 minutes, being careful not to burn onions.
Add mushrooms, herb(s), 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper. Saute until mushrooms soften, about 8 minutes.  Add stock.  Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook 15 minutes, uncovered.
You can serve the soup as is, with all the vegetables intact or puree some of the soup to give the final dish a bit more body.  If you wish to puree some of the soup use either a food mill, blender or food processor.  Begin by pureeing 1 1/2 cups of soup, continuing until you have the consistency you desire.  Check for seasoning.  Serve topped with sprigs of herb.
Cook’s note: Nepitella, a herb that grows wild in Italy is a cross between mint and oregano.  If you have no Nepitella, just substitute mint and oregano in the proportions given.  For a weightier soup, substitute brodo di carne (meat broth.)  If you use a prepared broth, look for a product marked “low sodium.”  If you can not find a low sodium one, do not add salt until the final tasting.
Crostata di Cremini – Mushroom Tart
•1 nine inch crostata
•1 1/2 cups all-purpose or 00 flour
•1/4 teaspoon salt
•1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut in 16 pieces
•3-4 tablespoons ice water
•1 tablespoons olive oil
•1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
•3 shallots, minced
•14 ounces cremini mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced
•1/4 cup Marsala
•1/2  cup ½  & ½
•1/2 cup heavy cream
•2 large eggs
•3/4 cup grated Italian Fontina cheese
•1/4 cup grated Parmigiano
•1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
kosher salt, pepper and nutmeg
Make pastry:
Place flour and salt in workbowl of food processor fitted with steel knife.  Pulse to combine.  Drop butter over flour and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal.  With processor running add 3 tablespoons ice water.  Process until mixture clumps.  Add a bit more water if necessary.  Remove dough from processor.  Form into disk.  Wrap in plastic.  Refrigerate 30 minutes.  Roll dough on floured board to 1/8 inch thickness.  Fit into 9 inch tart pan.  Freeze 30 minutes.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Blind bake pastry 20 minutes.  Cool on rack.
Make filling:
Melt oil and butter in 12 inch saute pan.  Add shallots and 1/2 teaspoon salt and saute over medium low heat until translucent, about 8 minutes, being careful not to brown shallots.  Add mushrooms, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, turning to coat.  Increase heat to medium high.  Saute until mushrooms soften and release liquid, continuing cooking until liquid evaporates, about 10 minutes.  Add Marsala.  Reduce heat to medium low and continue sauteing until almost dry, about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Add 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and parsley.  Set aside.
Combine ½ & ½, cream, eggs, ½ teaspoon each nutmeg and kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.
Spread mushroom mixture over bottom of pastry.  Sprinkle Fontina atop mushrooms.  Carefully pour custard over and top with Parmigiano.
Place on sheet pan and bake at 375 degrees 30 minutes until set.  Remove to a rack and cool 15 minutes before serving.
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