Creamy Potato-Mushroom Bake

IMG_2917Though I certainly fell off the blogging wagon for an embarrassing amount of time earlier this year, one New Year’s goal that we’ve been faithful to is our Wednesday Vegetarian Dinners (and subsequent Thursday Vegetarian Lunches). Though we have had a few “just okay” Wednesdays where some random, mashed bean patty caused withered glances to be exchanged before digging in, we’ve mostly enjoyed the interesting twists and turns along the way.

Of course, there’s no real shortage of vegetarian recipes in the world. As I mentioned in another post, my own personal challenge seems to come mostly from trying to find vegetarian recipes that “keep it real” — recipes that don’t feature one food trying to masquerade as another — as though I might forget I was eating a vegetarian meal. Also, while I don’t mind the occasional foray into international cuisine, I think my favorite vegetarian recipes are basically low-class, homestyle dishes which just so happen to be a balanced meal without including meat.

Knowing this, you can imagine my delight when I was browsing through the bargain book bin at Barnes & Noble and came IMG_3348across a lovely cookbook entitled “Homestyle Vegetarian”! I probably made some kind of squeaky sound as I reached for it, no doubt. Since most of my cookbooks come up short in the vegetarian category and my backlog of cooking magazines typically features outlandishly strange choices for vegetarian recipes, I was elated to find an entire book of recipes devoted to my kind of vegetarian philosophy.

Today’s recipe is adapted from the pages of “Homestyle Vegetarian”. It was a perfect menu choice — especially for the leaner times of early spring before the farmer’s market had much to offer. You’ll notice that most of the ingredients are very common in grocery stores and many are shelf-stable pantry goodies (e.g. dried mushrooms). And — perhaps the best part of all — the recipe is pitifully easy to put together, doing most of its cooking in the oven while you can carry on with whatever else you have on your to-do list for the afternoon or evening.

If you’ve never purchased dried mushrooms, you might be a little put off by their appearance — maybe their price, too, depending on where you shop. Trust me, they’re 100% worth the purchase. While fresh mushrooms have a life expectancy of about a week or so in IMG_3355your refrigerator before they begin to hurl guilt and shame at you for your heedless waste of foodstuffs; dried mushrooms can sit on your pantry shelf for months, maybe even years without so much as a peep (so long as you keep them completely dry in an airtight container). Dried mushrooms also have a tendency to be more flavorful since drying them really concentrates their flavor. This particular recipe rehydrates the mushrooms in hot milk, adding an even more tempting dimension of flavor that would not be possible with fresh mushrooms!

I’ve shared a recipe or two in the past that called for fontina cheese. In case you’ve never tried it, I should tell you it’s worth seeking out — usually located by the fancier cheeses in most supermarkets though its price isn’t necessarily “fancier” than everyday cheeses. If you’re unable to find fontina, you can approximate its taste and texture by substituting gruyère or a mild white cheddar.

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Creamy Potato-Mushroom Bake
Adapted from Homestyle Vegetarian
Serves 4-6

    3/4 ounce (20g) dried mushrooms (oyster, porcini, or a mix)
    3/4 cup scalding evaporated milk
    2 1/4 pounds red potatoes (small-medium in size)
    1/2 cup heavy cream
    2 tablespoons unsalted butter
    3 large garlic cloves, sliced thinly
    1 large spring onion sliced (or one small onion)
    1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
    1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
    1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, divided
    4 1/2 ounces fontina cheese, shredded

    Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Coat a round or rectangular 2-quart baking dish with cooking spray, set aside.

    In a medium bowl, combine the dried mushrooms and scalding evaporated milk; cover bowl with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap, and set aside for 15 minutes.

    Meanwhile, slice the potatoes into 1/4-inch slices. Cook the slices in boiling, lightly salted water until just tender (5-8 minutes of boiling); drain well, let cool slightly.

    Remove the softened mushrooms from the milk using a slotted spoon; finely chop them, then return to the milk. Pour the cream into the mushroom mixture.

    Melt the butter in a small skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat; sauté sliced onion until softened, adding the sliced garlic during the last minute or so of cooking so that it doesn’t burn.

    In the prepared pan, create a layer using half of the potato slices. Sprinkle potato layer with half of the salt, pepper, and thyme. Top with half of the sautéed onions and garlic and then half of the shredded fontina. On top of the cheese, spoon on 1/2 of the mushroom-cream mixture. Repeat all layers once more using remaining ingredients; top with additional dried thyme, if desired.

    Bake in preheated oven for 35 minutes or until cheese is browned and bubbly. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving to let any juices thicken and reabsorb.

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A hearty vegetarian casserole fit for vegetarian night or as a tasty accompaniment for a lighter meal; this recipe is hassle-free and sure to please even the most skeptical of fair-weather vegetarians. The mushroom-infused cream and the cream-infused mushrooms run circles around your taste buds though it’s such a simple dish. If you’re into layers and dividing things up, you might try to create a third layer by stretching the ingredients out a bit. That’s probably my least favorite part of cooking, though, so I went for two solid layers — especially on the bottom because I wanted the servings to be easy to put onto the plate.

A word about portions: we found that this served 4 as an entrée but would easily serve 6 as a side dish. To round out the meal, I suggest a mixed greens salad tossed with a quick, homemade vinaigrette and — if you’re eating at our house — a wee bit of dessert!

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~ by Jason on May 12, 2011.

2 Responses to “Creamy Potato-Mushroom Bake”

  1. I needed to bring a meal to a friend who just had a baby, and who doesn’t eat meat. I had no idea what to make and then saw James’ FB link to this entry. It sounded good to me, so decided to give it a try. I got a text tonight from her saying it was “soooo good” and that she needed the recipe. Sent her the link to your site. Thanks for saving me! I still have two ramikens in the fridge for us to try tomorrow. Looking forward to tasting it!

    • Thanks so much for trying the recipe and sending the link along. I salute you, especially, for making a recipe for a friend that you’d never before tried yourself! 😀 That’s a very brave move. I’m honored the recipe you chose was from this blog. Thanks again.

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