Layering Flavors / by Anne

thyme.and.thyme.I It’s not an actual secret or anything, but I like to think of layering flavors as an ace in my pocket.  It's a trick that may be obvious, but doing it intentionally makes me feel like a cooking genius.  Hey, I'll take it.  At this moment, the kind of “layering” I’m talking about is actually the repetition of a flavor in different ways.

For example, you could include both the fresh and dried version of an herb, or mushroom, or fruit, in your recipe.  Using both fresh and dried can make a flavor impact that is more than the sum of its parts. You can also layer a flavor by repeating it over the course of the cooking time—such as adding onions at different times during the cooking of a soup.  Also, adding a flavor in different forms, such as incorporating it within a sauce and then adding it to another part of the dish, can augment that flavor.  And of course, garnishing with one of the key flavor elements of a dish will also enliven it.

I have a mushroom and leek crêpe filling (that could also fill omelets beautifully) that uses all of these concepts, and they result in a deep and savory, mushroom-y experience.  Thyme is repeated three times and is both fresh and dried.  Mushrooms are also both fresh and dried, and even the liquid from rehydrating the mushrooms is used in the sauce.  The gruyere cheese also participates in three different places—within the filling, the sauce, and atop the two.  Hmm, what else.  Oh yes, butter is everywhere.

Layering the flavors in this filling takes a bit of extra time, but it is deeply, deliciously worth it.  In fact, if you like mushrooms, I’d call this filling an ace in your pocket.

Mushroom Leek Filling for Crêpes

Ingredients for the filling:

  • 3 T butter
  • 3 leeks, white and very green parts sliced in thin half-rings
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • Several thyme sprigs
  • A total of 1 lb mushrooms – one part of them dried and rehydrated.  Best if some of the dried mushrooms are morels.  Portabella mushrooms make good additions for fresh, especially if you cannot get your hands on morels.  When gathering your mushrooms, note that the packaging on dried mushrooms will usually indicate what the fresh equivalent weight will be once rehydrated.
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • Optional: a few tablespoons of port or sherry
  • 2 T cream
  • 4 to 5 ounces Gruyere, shredded (about 1 1/2 cups).  If you cannot get Gruyere, try two parts Jarlsberg to one part parmesan mixed together.

Ingredients for the sauce:

  • 3 T Butter
  • 3 T Flour
  • The liquid from soaking the dried mushrooms (above)
  • 1 ½ cups milk
  • Some of the cheese from ingredients above

Directions to make the filling:

  1. Place dried mushrooms in a medium-sized bowl.  Pour boiling water over mushrooms to cover, plus a little more.  Mushrooms will likely float to the top, so place a saucer, lip side down, over the mushrooms to keep them pushed down into the water.  Also, cover the bowl with a large lid to retain the heat.  Steep the mushrooms for about half an hour to an hour.
  2. During this time, slice leeks lengthwise, wash any dirt from between the layers, and slice thinly into half-rounds.  Set aside.  Chop fresh mushrooms into a small dice, about a half-inch square or less.  Remove enough leaves from thyme sprigs to make about 2 teaspoons’ worth.  Set aside into a small bowl.
  3. When dried mushrooms have finished steeping, remove mushrooms from liquid and keep liquid handy.  Chop rehydrated mushrooms and add to fresh mushroom bowl.    Place steeping juice in a small saucepan and boil over medium heat until reduced to ½ cup of mushroom broth.   Set aside.
  4. In a large pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat.  Add leeks and thyme and sauté for 3 minutes, or until leeks are soft.  Bring heat up to high, and then add mushrooms (and port or sherry, if you are using it).  Stirring frequently, cook until mushrooms have given off their liquid—about 10 minutes.  Turn heat off, and add the cream, 1 tsp of fresh thyme, ¼ cup of the grated cheese, and black pepper.  Set filling inside.

Directions to make the sauce:

  1. Briskly whisk together butter and flour over medium heat for 3 minutes, continuously whisking.
  2. Add the mushroom broth and the milk, whisking as you gradually pour in the liquids in a small stream.  Continue to whisk over the medium heat until thickened slightly, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add about a cup of the cheese into the sauce, and continue to stir until the cheese is melted.

Assembling Crêpes with Mushroom Filling

A saucy filling like this one needs a crêpe fold that contains it well.  This one fits the bill.

To fill crêpes:

mushroom.crepe

  1. Place a crêpe on a flat surface, with its’ best-looking side facing down.  Once its folded, it will be the part that shows.
  2. Place 2 - 3 T of mushroom filling in the center of a crêpe (Make a test one to see if you like the crêpe-to-mushroom ratio).
  3. Pour 2 – 3 T of sauce over the filling (use best judgment—you don’t want to overwhelm your filling with sauce, but you don’t want it to be dry, either).
  4. Sprinkle a few cheese flakes and a few thyme leaves over the top. This makes a difference!

To fold crêpes:

folding.crepes

  1. Take the bottom edge of the crêpe and fold it up over the filling.  Then fold in the two sides flaps over the first one, and over each other.   Finally take all the folded parts and fold the whole crêpe and filling over on top of the last flap, so that the bulk of the crêpe is sitting on top of the final flap.  You should have a neat little square or short rectangle.
  2. Repeat this for all the crêpes, making an effort to fill and fold them in a consistent fashion so that they look good together.
  3. Arrange your crêpes on a large rectangular serving platter or on a cookie sheet lined with parchment, wax paper, or foil.  These crêpes can be served at room temperature, or you can warm them up for a few minutes in the oven at a moderate temperature. Cover the crêpes with foil if you do this, so that they don’t dry out when heating.
  4. You can garnish the top of each crêpe with a sprig of thyme, or at the very last minute before serving you can add a bit of the sauce to the top of the square and place thyme on top of that.  The sauce should hold the thyme in place.

Makes enough filling and sauce for 12 to 15 crêpes.