There is something about the chill in the air and the changing leaves, but my palate has almost an immediate response. Kind of like how some people stash away seasonal clothes and look forward to rediscovering their favorite sweaters as the temperatures descend, I find myself turning towards autumnal flavors with verve.
For me, the most exciting time of the year comes four times…just as the seasons change. I remember how darn excited I was in June as some of my long lost summer veggies and fruits were coming back into my life! It was salad glory and gazpacho heaven for sure. However, I am finding myself just as excited as fall turns towards bumper crops and more earthy flavors. In the kitchen, I start leaving bright flavors like basil behind, as I reach for woodsy elements like sage and thyme. Oh, and the mushrooms! The mushrooms are an absolute must as the rainy season starts to creep in slowly here in California. We had our first rain just yesterday, and I was doing the happy dance! So, in honor of the changing season, I am sharing with you one of my absolute favorites. This is my mushroom tapenade. It is a cinch to make, and may make you and your autumn palate do the happy dance, too!
As with anything simple and easy in the kitchen, fresh is best. The ingredients are simple: mushrooms, walnuts, fresh sage, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. With a few mindful techniques, these otherwise humble elements turn into something really special.
Probably the most important “technique” is to not crowd your mushrooms!
I always roast my mushrooms for this dish with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, because the roasting brings out even more caramel tones to their earthy flavor. As you can see below, I give the mushrooms plenty of space on the cookie sheet. The goal is to condense the flavor, but not boil them in their own juices. Mushrooms contain a ton of water, so if they go into the oven piled on top of each other and all cramped for space, they will produce so much water that you will invariably have boiled (and not roasted) mushrooms. So give these babies some space. Kind of like with people, a little autonomy goes a long way to creating a superior relationship. A little space allows the each person to become even better together! Trust me, these mushrooms are going to sing!
Now, it is just about combining the ingredients together. You absolutely can roast your own walnuts, and hand chop all the ingredients…but I like easy. So, I buy roasted walnuts, and I use a food processor 😉
Here is the other important technique: if using a food processor, make sure to only pulse for a hot second at a time! There is still a lot of moisture in those mushrooms, and we do not want to turn this dish into a paste! The goal is to have combined ingredients with a nice chopped texture.
I personally love to serve this alongside a few tapenade and bruschettas for a nice and casual grazing sesh.
I am serious when I say this tastes like autumn. Yes, I love me a heaping bowl of butternut squash or pumpkin soup flavored with sage and grass fed butter, but this takes the cake in my book. Let me know what you think! I obviously used baby bella mushrooms, but this would be a fun way to play with all sorts of mushroom varieties.
- 1 pint Crimini or Bella mushrooms
- 2 tbsps fresh thyme
- 1/2 cup walnuts
- 1 tbsp balsamic reduction or glaze or regular vinegar
- 1/16 tsp salt
- 1 pinch pepper
- olive oil for drizzling
Slice the mushrooms, drizzle with olive oil and season with a little sprinkle of salt. Place them on a cookie sheet with plenty of space, you do not want them touching. Roast them at 400*F for about 10 minutes. You want them to take on a golden, caramel color around the edges.
In a food processor, add your still warm mushrooms with the rest of the ingredients, and gently pulse til things are combined but still chunky. You do not want to turn this into a paste. Note: the warmth of the mushrooms will be just enough to release the full flavor of the fresh thyme.
You can use a spoon to mix in another drizzle of olive oil before dishing this out into a bowl for serving. Serve with crusty bread or crackers. It is best still slightly warm or at room temperature.