A hearty vegan paté of earthy mushrooms, black walnuts, and velvety cashew cream is nestled into flaky puff pastry squares to create this crowd-pleasing vegan appetizer: Mushroom and Black Walnut Tartlets.
I’m the kind of person who wanders around a grocery store like it’s my second home. I usually have a list, but it’s just wishful thinking, because I’m never just shopping – I’m also designing. It seems like there is always a new ingredient to try, or something that’s ready to be rediscovered.
This time, I rediscovered black walnuts, an ingredient I grew up with. My grandpa’s large black walnut tree yielded literal buckets of black walnuts every year. He kept them in a shed behind the house, ready to be dried, husked, and cracked on the back porch. Grandma always had bags of black walnuts in her freezer, often using them in banana bread or oatmeal cookies. Black walnuts are the walnuts of my childhood.
Banana bread seemed like a good place to start. I pulled a card from Grandma’s recipe box, which I recently acquired after she passed away this September. I made a loaf with black walnuts, and another loaf with milder english walnuts, per the request of my son Lance who – as it turns out – does not like black walnuts. It was Lance who pointed out why: black walnuts have a funky, earthy, blue-cheesy taste. And Lance does not like blue cheese.
“Hmm,” I thought. “What if I used black walnuts as a stand-in for the flavor of blue cheese?” That would be perfect for something VEGAN!
I was vegan for a short time, and although I am no longer, I have a lasting appreciation and respect for vegan cooking. Nowhere have I found more creative and resourceful chefs and home cooks than in this community. I mean, someone took an ingredient like the leftover water from a can of chickpeas, whipped it into a foam, and now we have aquafaba, a vegan ingredient that’s remarkably like whipped egg whites. (Disclaimer, I have yet to try this, but the preceding link has some amazing-looking ideas. VEGAN MERINGUE, right?)
With the holidays coming up, I wanted to create a savory vegan appetizer. This began with a riff on Todd English’s mushroom puree from The Figs Table, which you should also definitely try. I wanted to create a sort of vegan paté consistency, and I knew I would need an ingredient to stand in for cream. Blending raw cashews in a high-speed blender creates a quick cashew cream. (You could skip this step entirely if you want to use a non-sweetened nut milk creamer that’s ready-made. Go for it.)
If you don’t have a high-speed blender, you should probably soak the cashews overnight in enough water to cover them, then drain the water and add fresh water before blending. Soaking softens them up quite a bit, and will help you achieve a smoother, less grainy puree.
You don’t have to toast the walnuts, and I’ve certainly skipped toasting nuts before – but the extra step is worth it. Toasting brings out the flavor of the black walnuts, and you want as much of that funky cheesiness as you can get.
Lastly, Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry is quickly becoming one of my must-have-on-hand pantry items. It keeps for a long time in the freezer, thaws quickly on the countertop, and is a fun base to use for a quick appetizer or to top a homemade pot pie. When I thought of how easily it bakes up into crisp, flaky layers, I knew it would be the perfect pairing for this paté. And, it’s accidentally vegan!
Vegan Mushroom and Black Walnut Tartlets
- 2 sheets Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry - thawed
- 1/2 cup chopped black walnuts
- 1 cup raw cashews
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms
- 1/2 cup hot water
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 medium white onion - chopped
- 2 cloves garlic - chopped
- 2 tbsp dry red wine
- 1/2 tsp rosemary - chopped
- 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves - chopped
- 3 oz oyster mushrooms - chopped
- 10 oz baby portobello mushrooms - chopped
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt - or to taste
- 2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped - for garnishing
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Unfold two sheets of puff pastry. Cut each into 16 equal-sized squares. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and set aside.
- Place dried porcini mushrooms in a bowl and cover with hot water. Set aside to soften.
- In a blender, combine cashews and 3/4 cup water. Blend at high speed until smooth and creamy, scraping the sides of the blender as needed to ensure an even consistency. Remove cashew cream from blender, add to an airtight container, and set aside. (You will have cashew cream left over. It's necessary to make a larger quantity than you need because the blender can process this quantity more easily.)
There's no need to wash the blender container at this point - you will be using it to process the mushroom mixture near the end of the recipe.
- Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat. Toss the chopped black walnuts into the heated dry skillet. Toast until lightly brown and fragrant, tossing or stirring frequently to prevent burning. Remove nuts from pan and set aside.
- Return the skillet to the burner, and raise the heat to medium. Add olive oil and onion. Sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Add garlic and sauté two minutes longer, or until garlic is fragrant. Add red wine to deglaze the pan, scraping up any browned bits.
- Add the porcini mushrooms along with their soaking liquid, chopped mushrooms, herbs, pepper, and salt to the skillet. Sauté over medium-low heat until most of the water is absorbed and the mushrooms are soft.
- Remove from heat. Stir in toasted walnuts and 1/2 cup of the cashew cream.
- Add mushroom mixture to blender. Pulse a few times to create a coarse puree. You don't want it to be completely smooth; just a few seconds of blending should do it.
To assemble the tartlets:
- Arrange puff pastry squares on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush lightly with cashew cream.
- Place a tablespoon-sized mound of the mushroom mixture in the center of each puff pastry square.
- Bake for 20-22 minutes, until light golden brown. Garnish with chopped parsley before serving.