Lifting Simple Dishes Using A Star Ingredient

We cook a lot of very simple meals in our house. We like dishes that don’t require long lists of ingredients, complicated preparation or a lot of hands-on cooking time (though we are a fan of slow cooking which lets the oven, stove or slow cooker do all the work).

It’s no secret that better quality ingredients create tastier end results; spending a little more often pays dividends. We like to buy a really good chicken and stretch it to several excellent meals rather than eat bigger portions of a cheap, hormone-pumped, water-logged bird that fails to excite the taste buds. A few impressive but not outrageously expensive king oyster mushrooms upgraded a regular mushroom dish to a fantastic one. Just 25 grams of smoked cheese completely lifted the flavour of feather light cheese gnocchi. And I am certain my home-made walnut brittle was even better because of the sweet and tasty walnuts, collected and dried in the grounds of a friend’s home in France.

But today, I am not talking about fresh produce. On my mind are ready-made ingredients that can be used to make simple dishes into amazing ones.

Our latest such dish was a simple pasta dinner which took only minutes to make, used just four ingredients and was utterly delicious:


One of these was a flavoured mustard from famous French brand Maille. Pete and I visited their original store in Dijon, Burgundy a few years ago and were excited to see quite how many flavours were available. Maille have now come to the UK and have an attractive two-story shop in Piccadilly. Staff are happy to guide you through tasting samples and choosing products to purchase. Maille also sell online, but reserve many of their flavours for sale only in their stores.

Their “Bleu” mustard is a smooth and mild French mustard flavoured with blue cheese and white wine, both perfect accompaniments to mushrooms and cream.

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Pasta with a Mushroom, Cream and Maille Blue Cheese Mustard Sauce Recipe

Serves 2

Dribble of vegetable oil, for cooking
300 grams white cup mushrooms, sliced
25 grams (1 small pot) Maille Bleu (mustard flavoured with blue cheese and white wine)
100 ml double cream
Salt and pepper, to taste
Pasta of your choice, amounts as per your usual portions
Salt and oil, for cooking the pasta

Note: We used fresh penne rigate – a perfect shape for the creamy sauce to cling to.

Note: It’s definitely worth experimenting with different mustards; if you use English ones, reduce the amount as they have a much fiercer kick. Of course, you can always add actual blue cheese and a splash of white wine to plain mustard if you aren’t able to find Maille Bleu.


  • Put a pan of water on to boil, for cooking the pasta. Add salt and a small splash of oil.
  • Fry the mushrooms in a dribble of oil over a medium heat until they release their juices and then a higher heat until the juices are absorbed / evaporated. Stir regularly, so they don’t catch. We usually find this takes 15 to 20 minutes, depending on size of mushrooms and pan used.
  • Take the mushrooms off the heat, add the mustard and cream and stir well. Put back onto a very gentle heat to warm the sauce through.
  • Season to taste.
  • As we were using fresh pasta, we put it on to cook once the mushrooms were cooked, just before adding the mustard and cream. However, if using dried pasta, start cooking it once the mushrooms have been on for 10 minutes.
  • Drain the pasta thoroughly, then add the mushroom sauce to the pasta and combine thoroughly.
  • Serve immediately.
  • We seldom worry about presentation when cooking for ourselves, but if you want to make the dish look a little more interesting, you could reserve a few cooked mushrooms to one side before adding the mustard and cream, and use them as a garnish on the finished dish.

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The blue cheese and mustard flavours both came through wonderfully and married well with mushrooms and cream.

I’d love to hear your ideas for using plain and flavoured mustards to lift a recipe – are there any recipes you can suggest? And are there other ingredients (such as the ones I mention above) that you like to use to make an ordinary recipe extraordinary? Please share your ideas!

With thanks to Maille for review samples of some of their mustards, dressings and oils.

King Oyster Mushroom & Cream Pasta

Cep aka porcini is such a prized mushroom that it is often showcased as the key ingredient in very simple dishes like the tagliatelle ai porcini I enjoyed in Parma a couple of years ago. It’s fêted in porcini festivals; there are recipe books dedicated to it; even children’s stories! But fresh porcini is expensive, and the main season (in Europe) runs only from late August to November. It hasn’t yet been successfully farmed so supply comes from the wild, hence the cost and the lack of availability.

But don’t despair! There are other mushrooms which are less expensive and more readily available and can be just as delicious when used well.


The King Oyster (Pleurotus eryngii) – also known as the King Trumpet and the French Horn – is one such mushroom. In the wild, it can be found year round, though the high season is August to February. It’s also a variety that is successfully farmed, and hence it’s available a little more widely in supermarkets and markets, though still not as common as Chestnut, Button and Portobello mushrooms.

(Incidentally, did you realise that Portobello mushrooms are actually just large, mature Button mushrooms? No, me neither until I was looking up aliases for the King Oyster!)


As it’s name suggests, the King Oyster is the grandest member of the Pleurotus genus, which also contains the regular oyster mushroom and the bright yellow golden oyster mushroom. Unlike many in the genus, which have minimal stems and wide, frilly caps the King Oyster has a thick white stem and a small pale brown cap. The texture is dense and meaty.


Although the King Oyster doesn’t taste of much (or smell, for that matter) when raw, once cooked it’s delicious – it has a deep mushroom earthiness, a slightly sweet nuttiness and a silky firm texture. In fact, although “meaty” is a common description, I’d say its texture is perhaps more reminiscent of shellfish though don’t let that put you off trying it, if you’re not a fan. (Certainly, the shape of the cooked slices reminded Pete and I of little fishes!)

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We bought these mushrooms from the Turnips mushroom stall at Borough Market one Saturday in January. Four fat specimens cost under £6 and we picked up a tub of Hurdlebrook extra thick, natural and untreated cream to pair with them. (Hurdlebrook are based in Somerset, and produce beautiful dairy from their Guernsey cows).

I’m keeping the recipe very loose, as it’s very simple and the amounts can be adjusted easily to serve more or less people.


King Oyster Mushroom & Cream Pasta

2 King Oyster mushrooms per person
1 heaped tablespoon extra thick double cream per person
Salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable oil and butter, to cook
Pasta of your choice, amounts as per your usual portions


  • Slice the mushrooms into four along their length. My slices were about a quarter of an inch thick.
  • Retain the two central slices from each mushroom and set aside.


  • Finely chop the outer two slices from the mushrooms. I used a food processor.
  • If using dried pasta, put your pasta on to boil.
  • In one frying pan, heat a little oil and gently fry the finely chopped mushrooms over a low to medium heat.


  • In a second pan, heat a little vegetable oil and butter and gently fry the sliced mushrooms over a low to medium heat.

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  • When the pasta is nearly cooked, and the mushrooms have taken on a nice golden colour, stir the cream into the chopped mushrooms until it’s heated through. Season to taste.
  • Drain the pasta thoroughly, and then mix into the chopped mushroom and cream sauce.
  • Serve with the fried mushroom slices.


This was a super meal; we both commented repeatedly on just how enjoyable it was and so simple to make too.

Have you tried King Oyster mushrooms? What’s your favourite way to cook them? What mushrooms do you suggest I look out for next?


With thanks to Mark from Galloway Wild Foods for helping me clarify some mushroom facts via twitter. You may also enjoy this great post about mushrooms from my friend Urvashi.

Michel Roux’s Pea, Mushroom & Mint Flan + Review of Pastry

I already own Eggs and Sauces, the first two titles in Michel Roux’s series of reference books on classic techniques and recipes. So I was very happy to receive a review copy of Pastry: Savoury and Sweet.

There are chapters for shortcrust pastries, enriched sweet pastries, puff pastry, raised pie pastry, brioche dough, croissant dough, choux pastry, pizza dough and filo pastry and each chapter starts with the basic dough recipe and then provides a wide range of recipes making use of it.

One of the things I like about the book is its use of step by step pictures and instructions for pastry techniques such as lining a flan tin with pastry, making a pastry lattice top and decorative borders, shaping croissants and so on. In addition each type of pastry has several photographs of how the dough looks as you make it. And there are lots of recipe photographs too.

Knowing what you are aiming for gives much greater confidence during the process, for me anyway.


Pete is pastry king in our house so I got him to make the pastry, roll it out into the flan dish and bake it for me, ready for me to do the rest.

Together, we made this absolutely delicious pea, mushroom and mint flan – a recipe I shall definitely be making again once our home-grown peas start cropping.


The flan calls on two recipes in the book, the first for flan pastry and the second for the flan itself.

The two shortcrust pastry recipes provided are for pâte brisée and flan pastry. The former is described in the book as a more delicate, crumbly and light; the latter as less fragile, crisper and just as good in taste.

One downside of the pastry recipe is that it creates about 430 grams of pastry, whereas the flan recipe calls for 260 grams. We used the rest to make some simple purple sprouting broccoli quiches a couple of days later.

The recipe also calls for 500 grams of mushrooms. We used only 400 grams, which filled our our flan dish pretty well.

We also substituted frozen petit pois for fresh peas.

Where the recipe requires steeping the mint in the cream, blending it and then sieving it through a chinois, I went for the rustic approach and decided to leave mine in. My stick blender didn’t do a great job on the leaves, and I’ve amended the recipe for next time to simply chop the leaves much smaller and leave out the blending altogether.

You can also see that our mushroom and peas stuck out proud from the creamy custard flan, which I thought looked lovely, but didn’t resemble the clean flat top of the one in the book.

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Pea, Mushroom & Mint Flan

260 grams of shortcrust (flan) pastry, cold from the fridge
500 grams very firm medium button mushrooms, trimmed and cleaned
60 grams butter
250 grams fresh or frozen peas
200 ml double cream
25 grams fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1 egg
2 egg yolks
Salt and pepper

Note: We made the pastry according to the recipe provided earlier in the book. It came together very quickly indeed and was easy to roll out and use. You could use ready made if you prefer.


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  • Preheat the oven to 190 C.
  • Roll out the pastry to a thickness of 3mm and line a 20 cm diameter flan dish.


  • Lightly prick the base, line with paper, fill with baking beads, and bake blind for 20 minutes. Remove the beads and paper and bake for another 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.
  • Increase the oven temperature to 200 C.
  • Halve or quarter the mushrooms, then sauté in butter until they have released their liquid. Drain, season and leave to cool.
  • Cook the peas briefly. I used the microwave on its defrost setting for about 2 minutes, as I didn’t want to the frozen peas to lose their freshness.
  • Heat the cream and mint leaves in a saucepan, over low heat, allowing the flavours to infuse.
  • Whisk the minted cream with the egg, egg yolks, salt and pepper.

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  • Put the mushrooms and peas into the pastry case.

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  • Pour the minted cream and egg mixture over the fillings. Mine had clumps of mint leaves, which I could have removed from the surface, but decided to leave in.


  • Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180 C and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes until ready. Test by inserting a knife tip into the flan; it should come out clean.


  • As our flan ring doesn’t allow the flan to easily be removed onto a plate or rack, we left it to cool down in the dish for 5 minutes before serving.

We both really enjoyed the flan – the combination of flavours was excellent with earthy mushrooms, fresh sweet peas and vibrant mint. Our flan bottom was a little soggy, perhaps we needed to bake it a little longer, or possibly brush with egg to create a protective layer against the wet custard.

As I mentioned, there are plenty of classic pastries in the book. Pete’s already made the brioche dough, which he used to make brioche bacon twists, also in the book. We didn’t take any notes or photograph these but they were delicious, if rather less beautifully shaped than those in the pictures!

This promises to be another great reference book to have in our collection.


Kavey Eats received a sample review copy of this book from Quadrille Publishing.

Pastry: Savoury and Sweet by Michel Roux is currently available in paperback on Amazon for £6.79 (RRP £9.99).