Best Bet: Mushroom Torta

Mushroom Torta at Cortona.

Photo by Michael Donahue, Michael Donahue / The Commercial Appeal // Buy this photo

Mushroom Torta at Cortona.

I was hooked after the first bite of the mushroom torta at Cortona Contemporary Italian Restaurant. The blend of flavors is so tasty.

David Cleveland, Cortona's executive chef, describes the dark, rich appetizer as a "savory tart." He created it while working at Terra Cotta restaurant in Atlanta.

He was working at the pantry station making appetizers and desserts when the head chef told him to come up with an appetizer.

Cleveland used ingredients they had in the restaurant. "We made our own stock," he said. "We had a lot of mushrooms in the house."

He took a recipe from an Italian chef "and ran with it."

A torte is different from a quiche, he explained. The base of a quiche is cream and eggs. You add the flavoring to that. "It's more like an omelet. You add flavors to it and put it in a shell."

The torte is the reverse of a quiche. There's "more concentrated flavor. It has more of the ingredient ... and less of the egg."

The mushroom torta was a hit in Atlanta, said Cleveland, who went on to feature it at other restaurants, including Elfo's when it was in Chickasaw Oaks. It's a "signature dish, in a way," he said.

"If you like mushrooms, it's easily approachable, almost like a comfort food. Like a chicken pot pie, but you're using mushrooms."

But, he added, "it's more elevated" than a chicken pot pie.

My mushroom torta arrived drizzled with balsamic vinegar reduction, which, along with the caramelized onions in the filling, gave it a slightly sweet taste. The pastry is made with butter, flour, a little bit of egg yolk and fresh thyme. Also on the plate was arugula sprinkled with bits of gorgonzola cheese.

The mushroom torta isn't something you "throw together," Cleveland said.

I asked how long it takes to make. "For me? Four hours. For one of my staff? Maybe two days."

Cortona is at 948 S. Cooper; call (901) 729-0101.

-- Michael Donahue: (901) 529-2797

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