MUSHROOMS…you either lov’em or hat’em. I love them–a love affair that began at 9 years old. I was having Chinese food for the first time at a local take-out spot, and they were hidden in the house special Lo Mein. They looked mysterious at first. Were they a vegetable or some kind of weird meat? All I knew was that they had a very savory flavor that lingered on the side of my mouth, and I liked it. From that moment on, I never said no to anything with mushrooms in it.
Today I try to add them to all kinds of dishes–scrambled eggs, rice pilafs, pasta, and sauces. They not only add a depth of flavor, but also a great meaty texture that can sub for meat when trying to keep things on the healthier side.
Let’s call this mushroom ragu a recipe booster. Essentially it’s a dehydrated version of mushroom soup. The juices have been reduced down to bring forth a rich velvety flavor. You can top polenta, pasta, or even garlicky toasted crostinis with it. I like to make a big batch and freeze for quick weeknight meals or savory cravings.
Mushroom Ragu (makes 5 cups)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 leek (white part only), finely sliced
2 shallots, diced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 lbs. cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced (white button mushrooms are fine as well)
6 oz. shiitake mushrooms (stems removed and set aside for vegetable stock), thinly sliced
2 teaspoons dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried marjoram (optional, but brings out the flavor in mushrooms)
1 bay leaf
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup white wine (Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc work best)
4 cups vegetable stock (mushroom stock would be great here too)
2 teaspoons tamari sauce or regular soy sauce
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (optional)
I recommend you prep all your veggies first to make this dish as simple as possible.
Leeks add a mild and delicate onion flavor especially when sautéed. They tend to have sandy dirt in between their layers. To clean them, slice the stalk in half length-wise, then into thin half-moon slices and dunk in cold water. Let them sit for a few minutes so the dirt sinks to the bottom. Lift out of water and set aside. Dice the shallots and set aside with the leeks.
Clean your mushrooms. Normally I’d say use a damp towel to wipe them clean, but 2 lbs of mushrooms is a lot. So just quickly run each one under a warm faucet to remove any dirt. Remove and save the stems of the shiitake mushrooms. Then slice both the creminis and shiitakes and set aside.
Chop garlic and set aside.
Assemble all your dried herbs in one small bowl.
To a large pot add the oil and heat over medium-low heat. Saute the leeks, onions, and salt until translucent but not browned.
To the leek and onion mixture, add mushrooms, herbs and bay leaf. Turn up heat to medium and brown. Once all the liquid has evaporated, add the garlic and cook till fragrant (about a minutes). Add the wine and cook until all of it has been absorbed by the veggies.
In the meantime, in a smaller pot, simmer the vegetable stock and shiitake stems over low heat. This will infuse a deeper mushroom flavor. Once stock comes to a boil, turn off and remove from heat.
Remove and discard the shiitake stems from the veggie stock. Add stock and soy sauce to sautéed veggies. Give it a good stir and taste for salt. If adding more salt, go easy because as the sauce reduces, the flavor and salt will intensify.
Lower heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes or until the sauce reduces by a third.
Remove from heat and mix in butter for a velvety finish.