Wild mushroom ragout (4 servings)

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Well, hello there! It's been a long time! In the weeks leading up to the holidays, I found myself cutting back on making new recipes, partly because holiday socializing had us away from home more often, and partly because we were so busy that it was easier to turn to my tried-and-true recipes for dinner.

One new recipe I did make recently was David Tanis' wild mushroom ragout, which I found on The Kitchn a few weeks ago. This was my first attempt at cooking with dried wild mushrooms. Just for the record, the white button mushrooms (which are sometimes called Pennsylvania mushrooms because many of them are grown there) you find in the grocery store taste nothing like wild mushrooms. When a recipe calls for wild mushrooms, nothing else will do. It would be like trying to satisfy yourself with a Tootsie Roll when you're really craving a hot fudge sundae. (Props to my dad for coming up with that metaphor to describe cravings a long time ago!)

However, as soon as I began planning this meal, I discovered a problem: wild mushrooms are expensive. I halved David's recipe, but even one pound of wild mushrooms would have been far too expensive for our budget. I bought two one-ounce bags of dried mixed wild mushrooms, knowing they would yield about twelve ounces once reconstituted, but just those two bags cost me almost $10. I ended up using a few baby portabellas to round out the pound, just for budget reasons. If you can afford to buy all wild mushrooms, you won't be disappointed by the flavor. But a girl's gotta be realistic here!

You will need:

  • 1/8 cup olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 lb wild mushrooms (or a combination of wild and cultivated)
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried sage
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 Tbsp flour
  • 1 cup mushroom broth (see note below)
  • splash of white wine (opt.)
  • 1 Tbsp butter (opt.)
  • rice, pasta, couscous, or whatever else you want to serve the ragout over

Steps:

  1. Heat 1 Tbsp of the oil over med-high heat in a large rimmed skillet. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to brown (8-10 minutes, I think). Lower the heat to medium, sprinkle in a little salt and pepper, and continue to cook the onion until it's nicely caramelized (another 5 minutes or so). Transfer the onion to a bowl and return the skillet to the stovetop.
  2. Bring the skillet back to medium-high and add the remaining oil. Add the mushrooms, stirring well to coat with oil. Saute the mushrooms until they're lightly browned. (Unfortunately, I don't remember how long that took! Oops!)
  3. Season the mushrooms with a bit more salt and pepper; add in the garlic, thyme, sage, and pepper flakes, and stir well. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onion back in, and stir in the tomato paste. If you'd like to add the wine and butter for a tad more decadence, do that now. Cook for another 2 minutes, stirring well.
  4. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir it in. Slowly pour in the mushroom broth and cook the mixture for another 5 minutes. If it's too thick, add a little more broth or water, and if it's too thin, let it cook for a few minutes longer.
  5. Ladle over pasta, rice, or couscous and serve immediately.

We served this luscious sauce over buttered egg noodles, and it was just glorious. It's tough to describe the flavor of this sauce without using words that are always connected to mushrooms -- earthy, meaty, rich -- but all of them definitely apply. I feel like the wine and butter are pretty essential here, but don't add the butter if you want this dish to be vegan.

A note about the mushroom broth: If you buy dried mushrooms, just save a cup of the broth that's left over after you've reconstituted them. An ounce of dried mushrooms yields six to seven ounces, so make sure to plan accordingly. I found a useful tutorial on preparing dried mushrooms here. However, in preparing them, I discovered one other problem with dried mushrooms: they're very, very gritty. After I soaked them, I drained them in a sieve, but that wasn't enough, as it turns out. Every couple of bites, we'd get a mouthful of sandy grit, which really took away from the experience. Once you soak them, pour the liquid through a coffee filter, and then maybe even rinse the mushrooms one more time.

But don't let that scare you off! The sauce is multifaceted and filling, and it's perfect for a lazy winter day.