Piccole Torta Pasqualina con Morels (Mini Easter Pies with Morels)

I recently received an email from the folks at Marx Foods to contribute to their Morel Recipe Challenge. I was happy to participate, especially since morels are nearly impossible to come by now that I live in Texas. Back home in Indiana, thanks, to the springtime rains, several types of wild mushooms spring up so mushroom hunting time. However, here in arid west Texas I have zero chance of finding any of the mushrooms I'd find in Indiana. When I lived in Indiana, my favorite mushrooms to find were morels, and we'd prepare them by lightly dusting them with flour, salt, and pepper and fry them up and dip them in ketchup (not health food, but you only get a couple of weeks out of the year to have this delicacy!). I miss having these rich-tasting mushrooms, so I was more than happy to contribute to this contest.

I was impressed by the product I received because as you can tell by the pictures, these were full-sized mushrooms, not little mushroom chips as you sometimes get with other types of dried mushrooms. 


  For the contest we were required to prepare an hors d’oeuvres using a package of dried morels sent from Marx Foods. Because it was around Easter time and it's now spring, I wanted to do something light. Nothing is lighter than phyllo pastry, so I settled on some sort of little tarts.The mushrooms were the inspiring ingredient. I had come across an onion pie (torta di cipolle) recipe that had dried porcini mushrooms in it, and a light bulb went off in my head...pie was the perfect use for these guys. Because I am proud of my Italian heritage, I chose to do a twist on the classic Italian Easter pie, torta pasqualina (sometimes called pizza rustica in other parts of Italy). When this pie was invented hundreds of years ago, eggs were a seasonal food as chickens at that time laid less than half the eggs conventional chickens do now, and mainly at springtime. Because of that, Easter pie was a riccota custard pie studded with hard-boiled eggs. Obviously, I couldn't put a whole hard-boiled egg into those little pie shells, so I subbed in toasted pine nuts, which have an egg shape and would help maintain the richness that egg yolk would yield. Also instead of using chard or beet greens to add a springtime green color, I used frozen spinach. I only needed a little bit of green vegetable, and frozen spinach is so convenient. It's perfect for when you are throwing a party; because of the convenience of phyllo shells and frozen spinach, it takes a little stress off the host/hostess without sacrificing anything. These are a great little 1-to-2-bite hors d’oeuvres. Using dried, reconstituted mushrooms was key in this recipe because overall they did not have a lot of moisture despite their reconstitution. These tarts would have been soggy had I used regular button or cremini mushrooms.

I love the contrast between the crackle of the phyllo, the crunch and sweetness of the pine nuts, the creamy filling, and the chewy, earthiness of the mushrooms. Each tart looks so spring-appropriate with the bright green color and the bits of morel stud the top of each tart with their lacy texture.

Also, by no means do you have to make these just for Easter or springtime, thanks to the use of dried mushrooms, which can be found year-round. These would be great for any party where you need a fast, yet elegant starter.

Thanks Marx Foods for this delicious opportunity!

 Piccole Torta Pasqualina con Morels (Mini Easter Pies with Morels)
Printable Recipe

4 large dried morel mushrooms
hot water
2 tsp unsalted butter
1 small shallot, minced
5 oz frozen, thawed spinach, squeezed of all residual moisture and then chopped
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp dried marjoram
2 tbsp toasted pine nuts
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 1.9-oz boxes frozen phyllo shells (30 shells total)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Pour enough hot water of the mushrooms to cover them completely. Allow them to sit until they are softened, about 20 min. Remove the mushrooms from the liquid; the liquid can be saved for stock or discarded. Pat the mushrooms on a clean cloth to remove all excess moisture. Coarsely chop the mushrooms and set aside. (Please note I soaked more than 4 mushrooms because the sample was large enough that I have other plans for those mushrooms...post to come)

3. Heat butter in a medium skillet over medium heat until melted, then add the shallot and cook until transparent. Add the mushroom, saute about 2 min, then add the chopped spinach and blend all the ingredients together. Remove from the skillet and set aside to cool slightly.

4. While the mushroom mixture cools, add the ricotta to a medium bowl and fold the Parmesan, marjoram, pine nuts, nutmeg, and cooled mushroom mixture. Season well with salt and pepper. You can taste the mixture at this point to see if it is adequately seasoned, then fold in the egg.

5. Place the filling in a pastry bag or plastic bag with the corner cut off.

6. Lay all the shells out on a baking tray lined with aluminum foil for easy cleanup. Pipe the filling among the phyllo shells, smoothing the tops off with the back of a spoon if necessary. Bake the mini pies for 10-15 more minutes rotating the tray once for even baking. The tarts are finished when the filling becomes solid.

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