There’s really no place like Gjelina, one of L.A.’s coziest hotspots. From the dark, but fresh-feeling dining room to the rustic chic patio, this little Abbott Kinney restaurant is always packed – and half of the guests are there for this mushroom toast.
We can’t deny Gjelina’s ever-lasting cool factor. Some hotspots get so hot we tire of them quickly – or at least feign disinterest. This is not that. We’re thrilled to feature Chef Travis Lett’s obsession-worthy mushroom toast, a recipe that’s packed in between nine other chapters full of killer recipes in the new Gjelina Cooking From Venice, California cookbook.
This recipe is no simple matter. But trust us when we say that all the fuss will be worth the trouble. Start here with these instructions for Gjelina’s Garlic confit: In a small baking dish, add eight peeled heads of garlic, 12 thyme sprigs and 3 bruised bay leaves and cover with about one inch of extra-virgin olive oil:. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour until garlic cloves are soft and lightly browned but still hold their shape.
Our customers freak out over this dish, and there is a good reason why — seared mushrooms, lashed with house-made crème fraîche, a splash of wine, and a few herbs, mounded on top of grilled bread is always a crowd-pleaser. We make no claims for inventing this combination, but we proudly carry the torch. There’s a classic version that calls for brioche and wild spring morels, with an optional shower of black truffles. A similar, far less opulent version, can be made with everyday cremini mushrooms and simple ciabatta or a baguette. We opt for a variety of mushrooms supplied by our friend Matt Parker at Shiitake Happens, including nameko, clamshell, pioppini, chanterelle, and hen of the woods, in addition to porcini, matsutake, and the seasonal morels we occasionally score.
Buttermilk stirred into good-quality heavy cream left out to culture for a few days yields a decadent crème fraîche with limitless possibilities. Real farmstead raw-milk crème fraîche is very difficult to come by, but if you are lucky enough to have access to it, by all means use it here. Do not substitute store-bought sour cream. It doesn’t hold up to the heat and may break and curdle the sauce.
When our guests ask me for a recipe and find out that it calls for homemade crème fraîche, they’re often hesitant, imagining that making crème fraîche is a complicated process. The reality is that it’s very easy to make, but simply requires a few days of waiting to pull off. The plus side is that crème fraîche keeps well in the refrigerator and can be used to enrich pasta dishes, risotto, soups, vegetables — anything you want to bring a little richness to. Whip it gently to serve over desserts, slightly sweetened or not, in place of standard whipped cream.
Unlike the other toasts in the Gjelina cookbook, this is best served piping hot, before the crème fraîche starts to set. Small portions can be served as an appetizer, but a large slab of this toast alongside a glass of earthy red is the way I prefer to take it down.
Gjelina’s Mushroom Toast
For the mushroom toast:
one 6″ hunk ciabatta, halved horizontally and then crosswise to yield 4 pieces
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for toasting the bread
1 lb mushrooms, such as nameko,
hen of the woods, chanterelle, porcini, matsutake
6 cloves garlic confit, sliced
freshly ground black pepper
½ cup dry white wine
1¼ cups buttermilk crème fraîche (instructions below)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
½ tsp fresh thyme leaves
For the buttermilk crème fraîche (makes 4 cups):
4 cups heavy cream
1 Tbsp buttermilk
For the mushroom toast:
Brush olive oil on both sides of the bread, then grill or toast bread. (To grill, heat a large cast-iron skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat, and grill the bread for about 3 minutes on each side.) After grilling or toasting, brush the tops lightly with olive oil again.
Heat a large frying pan over high heat. Add the olive oil and, when hot, add the mushrooms, in batches if necessary so as not to crowd the pan. It’s important that the mushrooms sear and not steam. Cook, without stirring, until the mushrooms are well browned, about 3 minutes. Give the mushrooms a good toss to turn them and then briefly sear on the other side.
Add the garlic confit to the pan, and season with salt and pepper. Add the wine and cook until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. With a wooden spoon, stir in the crème fraîche until well incorporated. Cook until slightly thickened, season with more salt and pepper if necessary, and stir in the parsley and thyme.
Place the toasted bread on individual plates. Spoon the mushrooms and pan sauce on top, dividing it evenly. Serve hot.
For the buttermilk crème fraîche:
In a 1-quart jar, combine the cream and buttermilk. Partially cover and let stand in a warm spot (about 78°F) until the cream tastes slightly sour and has thickened to a pudding-like consistency, 24 hours to 3 days.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Excerpted from Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California by Travis Lett. (Chronicle Books) Copyright © 2015.