Crêpes au champignon
In Virginia Willis' newest column, Setting the Table with Virginia, we'll explore all of the ways that Willis brings her family and friends around the table. Whether that's a summertime picnic party or a small family gathering, she'll share her inspiration, cooking and serving ideas. This month, in honor of Mother's Day, she's taking a cue from her mother's innate ability to cook, well anything, and serving a comforting dish in an intimate setting.
Anyone familiar with my cookbooks and writing knows I was very close with my grandmother, now passed away, and am still very close with my dear sweet mama. I love that lady. She is an amazing joy and inspiration in my life.
My parents divorced when I was in my teens and my mother had a hard time of it — but she never let on, always did the best she could, and raised two teens on her own in radically different financial circumstances, without the help of my father. She’s got a slow Southern drawl and an absolute strong will, the pure epitome of a steel magnolia.
My earliest memories are of being in the kitchen. I get my love for cooking honest, as the expression goes. My grandmother was a phenomenal cook and my mother is, as well. She’s famous for her buttery pound cake and pecan pie. I grew up eating traditional Southern foods like butter beans, okra and tomatoes, cornbread, and biscuits. But what happens in Mama’s kitchen isn’t the same-old, same-old. She’s not limited by her personal experience and has always been a very adventurous cook.
We moved to Louisiana when I was three years old. Mama didn’t know anyone, so she set out to get to know her new community by cooking their food. She purchased a smattering of local junior league cookbooks: "First, You Make a Roux," "River Road" and "Talk About Good." I grew up with red beans and rice, jambalaya, gumbo, and crawfish etoufée on my plate.
I’d come home from school and the kitchen would be covered in heaping bowls of chopped vegetables and pots and pans scattered across the kitchen. She’d be in the process of making just about anything, from hand-rolled egg rolls to crêpes au champignon (crêpes with mushrooms). Of course, it was quite odd, and at the time, I have to admit I wasn’t very appreciative. As a kid, there’s a great challenge in non-conformity. All I wanted was the abysmal vending machine food that everyone else ate, but I was sent to school with real, homemade food — exotica like those crêpes, broccoli roulade and puff pastry shells stuffed with chicken supremes, all bathed in sauce mornay. At the time, I absolutely hated them, but I now see that these meals were the beginning of what not only is my career, but also my life. She could, and still can, cook anything.
Mama's love and joy for food and cooking was infectious. Those early days were math lessons, history class, home economics sessions, and most importantly, a gift to understanding how important sitting around the table is to a person, to a family, to relationships.
Thank you, Mama. Love you the most.
Crêpes au Champignon
Hands-on time: 1 1/2 hours
Total time: 2 hours
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk, plus more if needed
3 large eggs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
Melted clarified butter, for the skillet
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan
1 1/2 pounds fresh mushrooms, such as white button, cremini, morel and/or chanterelles, cleaned and sliced
2 bay leaves
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, tarragon, chervil and/or thyme, plus more for serving
4 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled
To make the crêpes: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, milk, eggs, butter and salt. Whisk in additional milk, if needed, to give the batter the consistency of heavy cream. Let rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Brush the bottom and sides of the skillet with clarified butter, then tilt to pour off excess. Stir the batter, then carefully ladle about 1/4 cup of the batter into the skillet. Rotate the skillet so the batter spreads out and thinly coats the bottom and edges of the skillet. Cook the crêpe until the edges turn golden brown and lacy, and the crêpe starts to pull away from the skillet, about 2 minutes.
Using a knife or an offset spatula, carefully flip the crêpe; cook the second side until just golden, 30 to 40 seconds. Slide the crêpe onto a plate and top with a sheet of wax paper. Repeat with the remaining batter, stirring it before making another crêpe and adjusting the heat as needed to maintain a consistent cooking time. Layer the cooked crêpes between sheets of waxed paper. You should have about 10 crêpes. (Cooked crêpes can be cooled and frozen, tightly wrapped in plastic, for up to 1 month.)
To make the mushrooms: Adjust the oven rack to about 5 inches below the broiler. Heat the oven to broil. Brush a large ovenproof gratin dish or other baking dish with olive oil.
Heat the 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and bay leaves, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until just barely tender, about 2 minutes.
Add the wine and cook, stirring, until the liquid is evaporated and the mushrooms are tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the chopped herbs. Remove the bay leaves and season to taste with salt and pepper.
To assemble: Place one crêpe on a clean work surface. Place about 1/4 cup of sautéed mushrooms in the center of the crêpe. Roll into a cigar shape and place the crêpe, seam side-down, in the gratin dish. Repeat with the remaining crêpes and mushrooms. Top evenly with the cheese. Scatter any remaining mushrooms around the gratin dish and season with freshly ground pepper.
Broil until the cheese is bubbly, melted and golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes, depending on the strength of your broiler. Sprinkle with additional fresh herbs and serve immediately.
All recipe photos: Virginia Willis
Photo (Virginia and mother): Tom Brodnax