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Shiitake mushrooms add distinctive flavor to this punchy vegetarian pate. The recipe is endlessly customizable, and is a great way to familiarize oneself with what American chef Samin Nosrat describes as the four elements of good cooking — salt, fat, acid, heat — and understanding what role each ingredient plays.

The saltiness and umami come from salt, mushroom bouillon and grated Parmesan, but these can easily be swapped for stock cubes, fish sauce or Maggi seasoning. White wine and lemon juice provide acidity, but you could try sake or even olive brine, and finish with rice vinegar. Use butter in place of olive oil; stir in cream cheese instead of almonds for a richer, creamier pate. Try chili flakes or curry powder instead of pepper. You can even, if you want, use a mix of mushrooms instead of shiitake.

The only stipulation? Don’t use ready-grated Parmesan. Instead, boost the umami by substituting a different ingredient.

Serves 6-8 as an appetizer
Prep: 20 mins.; cook: 15 to 20 mins.

Equipment:

• Food processor or blender

For the pate:

  • 1 large yellow onion (270-300 grams)
  • 300-350 grams shiitake mushrooms, woody parts of stems removed
  • 2 large garlic cloves, crushed
  • 5-6 sage leaves
  • 2-4 fresh thyme sprigs
  • ½ cup (75 grams) almonds (optional)
  • ¼ -½ cup (60-125 milliliters) white wine
  • 1 cup (25 grams) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ teaspoon mushroom bouillon powder
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • ⅓ cup finely chopped fresh leafy herbs, like Italian parsley or basil (optional)

1. If using almonds, toast them in a dry frying pan over medium heat, taking care not to burn them, until they smell fragrant. Remove from heat, let them cool, and blitz in a food processor until they resemble coarse flour. Do not over-grind, as this will turn them to paste.

2. Finely chop the onion. Clean and dice the mushrooms. Remove and reserve the leaves from the thyme sprigs, discarding the stems for compost. Finely chop the sage leaves.

3. Heat your pan to medium. Saute the onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until it’s softened and just translucent.

4. Add the chopped mushrooms, followed by the garlic, ¾ teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon black pepper and bouillon. Cook on high heat for a minute or two to help the mushrooms cook down faster, then cook for around five to seven minutes on medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until excess liquid has evaporated.

5. Midway through cooking, toss in the sage, thyme and white wine, scraping the pan for the flavorful browned bits as you do. Season and taste as you go along. The mixture should be flavorful but not too salty, as you’ll be adding Parmesan cheese later on. (Conversely, if you’re using nuts, any saltiness will be toned down, so adjust accordingly.)

6. Once the mixture has cooked down considerably — there should be no liquid pooling in the pan, and the mushrooms will be deep brown but not burnt — turn off the heat and stir in the toasted almonds, if using.

7. Let cool slightly, then transfer the mixture to a food processor. Add the cheese and a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Blitz until smooth and combined. Season to taste with salt and lemon juice; you may find you need all the juice. Stir in the chopped herbs, if using.

8. Let cool completely. Scrape into a lidded container, and store in the fridge for at least an hour for the flavors to meld and develop. Keep covered in the fridge for up to a week.

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