The months of September and October should be the best time for mushroom foraging in Puerto Rico, but it’s also hurricane season, and Fiona just came ripping through. The Category 1 storm hit the archipelago with a destructive force worth much more than its 115 mph winds; in the five years since Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm, caused incredible death and destruction, there has not been sufficient work done to build resilient infrastructure — from energy to transportation to agriculture. Instead, the local government and the United States’ colonial fiscal control board have relied upon the resilience of the people to see themselves through disaster.
I would like to be on a walk, examining the earth beneath the uva playera trees that line the walk from my neighborhood of Old San Juan toward Escambrón beach. That’s where I’ve been told I can find chanterelles, the wild orange mushrooms often worth upward of $20 per pound. It’s basically impossible to cultivate them, unlike oyster varieties or the most common agaricus genus: portobello, cremini, button. I’ve eaten them in New York, at restaurants, where I took them for granted; I’ve eaten them in San Sebastian, in the Basque Country of Spain, where we turned them into a most exquisite omelet.
I wanted to sauté them simply, the way we did in San Sebastian, for this tart. I thought the blaze of orange upon orange from the butternut squash purée would be a lovely winter dish, something colorful to set against the hearty greens, grains, and beans of the year’s darkest days. Instead, we have old faithful: the portobello, which anyone can get anywhere, and for that, it is special like the chanterelle too.
210 grams / 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ tablespoon arrowroot starch or cornstarch
20 grams / 2 tablespoons olive oil
130 grams / ½ cup water
1. In a medium mixing bowl, mix together flour, salt, baking powder, and starch with a fork or whisk.
2. Pour the olive oil into the dry mixture and, using either a fork or a pastry cutter, spread the oil throughout while small balls form. This is the fat being distributed through.
3. Stream in the water and mix until a dough begins to form, then knead until smooth. It will be sticky at first but will come together. Chill for at least 30 minutes and up to 8 hours. If longer, wrap tightly and freeze.
Makes 1 8-inch tart
Butternut Squash Purée
600 grams / ~1.5 pounds butternut squash or other orange gourd (Any squash is fine here, such as pumpkin or kabocha)
50 grams / ¼ cup olive oil (or cooking oil of your choice)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 cloves garlic
Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Cut off the ends of the squash, stand it upright, and then cut the squash in half vertically. Save the seeds for later roasting, if desired, but discard the stringy insides.
3. Place each side of the cut squash face up on a parchment-lined baking sheet and coat generously with the oil and salt. Place the garlic cloves in the cavity where the seeds had been.
4. Roast the squash until fork-tender, then scoop out the flesh — once cooled — and puree with the roasted garlic using a food processor or immersion blender, adding black pepper to taste.
200 grams / 7 ounces mushrooms of any variety, sliced thin
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or more or less to taste)
2 teaspoons adobo seasoning
¼ teaspoon smoked pimentón
1 tablespoon olive oil
1. In a medium mixing bowl, using hands or a rubber spatula, stir up the mushrooms with salt, adobo, and pimentón. Let marinate for at least 20 minutes and up to one hour, occasionally stirring again in order to ensure even distribution of salt and spices. If they aren’t softening over time, add a bit more salt.
To assemble the tart:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Roll out the dough into a large circle. If using a tart dish, place in the dish and give fork pricks all over the bottom. If not, make a freeform galette. Spoon the squash purée into the center and move outward, spreading an even amount across the circle while leaving an inch of dough to fold over on the edges.
3. Pour 1 tablespoon olive oil over the marinated mushrooms and toss, coating them evenly, then evenly spread the mushrooms over the squash purée. They can pile up a bit.
4. Place the tart on a baking sheet lined with parchment and fold over the edges. Brush the folded over dough with olive oil or an egg wash (a lightly beaten egg); these will help the dough brown.
5. Bake for 35 minutes, or until the dough edges are golden brown. Serve warm, with a dusting of flaky sea salt, a drizzle of extra olive oil, and a sprinkling of herbs.
Alicia Kennedy is a writer based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She has a weekly newsletter on food culture, media, and politics, and her book No Meat Required: The Cultural History and Culinary Future of Plant-Based Eating is forthcoming from Beacon Press.