Monday, January 28, 2008

Artery Clogging Goodness

In my continued attempt to use everything in my fridge, it occurred to me that I'd bought some beautiful mushrooms at the green market and completely forgotten about them. I've been trying to perfect a mushroom ragu for quite some time now, and intended to test my final recipe a few days ago. But, I've been so busy apartment hunting and actually socializing (have I mentioned that I'm on a volleyball team now?) that I didn't get the chance until late last week.

A ragu is traditionally a meat sauce (like a bolognese) served with pasta and cooked slowly in a tomato based sauce. I don't care for very many tomato based sauces and happen to be particularly picky about how they're made, so I decided to change things up a bit (for my own sanity). First, I replaced the meat with a trio of mushrooms in various shapes, colors and textures. I started out with a few cups of crimini's because of their "meaty" texture (they're young portobello's), then a few shitake's for a hint of tartness, and lastly, a handful of long, slender white beech mushrooms. Then, I replaced the chunky, veggie filled tomato sauce with vast amounts of fruity olive oil and rich French butter. I didn't really want to add any other veg, so I decided to go with a lot of delicious and fragrant herbs--thyme, parsley and sage--instead.

For a bit of heat and added flavor I added a few teaspoons of red pepper flake and several turns of freshly cracked white pepper. Now, I realize that this will just look like sautéed mushrooms floating in heaps of butter and olive oil, but it's so much more than that. First, it doesn't actually feel or taste overly oily, and that's for a few reasons. Because the mushrooms are cooked slowly, over low heat, they release their juices into the sauce as they cook. Secondly, I started the whole thing in tons of minced garlic and shallots which perfume everything and absorb a lot of the oil and butter (as do the mushrooms). And thirdly, it's basically a sauce that needs to coat whatever pasta it's served with, so you need lots of liquid, and what's better than silky olive oil and butter? I like serving it over long pasta noodles like buccatini, or even simple flat egg noodles. Recently I've also tried stirring it into couscous, where the butter and olive oil help to fluff up every last grain. Here's the recipe I came up with:

Mushroom Ragu

4 cups crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 cup shitake mushrooms, sliced
1 1/2 cups beech or enoki mushrooms
2 shallots, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
5 Tbsp butter (the best butter you can find would be great)
1/4 cup,
plus 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp ground sage
1 tsp ground thyme
1 tsp chopped parsley plus extra for garnish
2 tsp red pepper flake, plus extra for garnish
1/2 tsp white pepper
1/4 cup white wine

1. Sauté shallot and garlic in 1 Tbsp each butter and olive oil on medium low heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Season with a pinch of salt.

2. Add the mushrooms, remaining butter and olive oil, and turn to coat. After the butter has melted, reduce heat to low and add sage, thyme, parsley, pepper, red pepper flake and season with salt to taste. Cook about 5-7 minutes until mushrooms are soft and almost done, then add white wine. Continue cooking until mushrooms are cooked through. Serve over pasta, couscous or lentils, and garnish with parsley and red pepper flake. Enjoy!


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