Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Mushroom Ragu over polenta

This is a great main course for vegetarians for Christmas dinner. The ragu can be made in advance and the quick cooking polenta always come to the rescue. My meat eating friends love this dish as well - so plan to make extra.
A mixture of mushrooms works best for this dish. The variety of flavors adds to the complexity of the dish and also contributes to providing some textural contrast. One of my meat eating friends told me that the mushrooms coated with this gorgeous silky brown sauce reminded them of steak bits in gravy.  Of course vegetarians who love mushrooms will find this recipe delicious.

I found this recipe in David Tanis's cookbook Heart of the Artichoke and other kitchen journeys. This is a slight riff of the original recipe.

Mushroom Ragu over Polenta


¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium Spanish onion, finely diced
Salt and pepper to taste
2 lbs mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (I used a mix of cremini, Portobello, button and shiitake)
3 garlic cloves, put through a press
1 teaspoon finely chopped thyme
2 teaspoons finely chopped sage leaves
½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 cups Porcini Mushroom Broth (recipe follows), hot, or as needed *****
2 tablespoon chopped parsley

1. To prepare the ragu, in a very large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring well, until it begins to brown. Lower the heat to medium, season the onion with salt and pepper, and continue stirring until nicely caramelized, about 5 minutes. Remove the onion to a small bowl. Return the pan to the heat, add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, and turn the heat to high. Add the mushrooms, stirring well to coat with oil. Keep the heat high and sauté the mushrooms until they brown lightly. If juices accumulate in the pan, pour them off and reserve.
2. Season the mushrooms with salt and pepper, add the garlic, thyme, sage, and pepper flakes, and stir well. Reduce the heat to medium, add the caramelized onion and the tomato paste, and stir well to coat the mushrooms and to dry the mixture slightly. Cook for another 2 minutes, stirring.
3. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir it in. Ladle in 1 cup of the hot mushroom broth, stirring well as the mixture thickens. Add another cup of hot broth and let the ragu cook for another 5 minutes. If it’s too thin, cook it a bit longer; if too thick, add a bit more broth. Taste for seasoning. (The ragu can be made a few hours ahead and reheated.) The pan juices can be added instead of broth to fortify the mushroom flavor.
4. Serve over polenta. Sprinkle parsley before serving.

Serves 4 to 6

****** I used a Porcini mushrooms stock cube which I bought at the local Italian grocery store. In the UK it is available very easily, but if you cannot get, it then you can used David Tanis’s recipe below for making Porcini Mushroom Broth.

Porcini Mushroom Broth
1. Put 3 cups water in a saucepan and add a bay leaf, a few slices of dried porcini mushrooms or 2 teaspoons dry porcini powder (see below), half a small onion, 1 small celery stalk, and a small carrot, peeled and chopped. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook for 20 to 30 minutes; strain.
2. {Variation} Dry Porcini Powder
3. Porcini powder is available at specialty shops, but it’s easy to make your own, to add intensity to the mushroom ragout or many other sauces or dishes. Dried porcini can sometimes be sandy. So, to get rid of any grit, soak a handful of them briefly in warm water, then blot them very well in a towel, put them on a baking sheet, and let them air-dry completely. When the mushrooms are dry, grind them up in a spice grinder and keep the powder in a jar in the freezer.

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