A delicious Autumn meal I eat year round.
I love fall. Hands down my favorite season. It’s not because I look my best in fall clothes… although, to be honest, that is part of it. I love everything about fall: cool crisp sweater weather, football games at twilight, County Fairs, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Fall Back from Daylight Savings Time (an extra hour of sleep, yes!!), earth tones, melancholy (can’t be beat) and of course all kinds of fall food… from soups to stews to root vegetables to pie to, well, any food that warms the soul and speaks to Autumn.
I love Fall so much I even have a playlist I created that makes me feel like Fall, all year round:
To start fall off right I present to you a divine Mushroom Ragout, one you can serve in a variety of ways. Vegetarian to the max (and even Vegan if you omit the final pad of butter) you’ll never think of this as a vegetarian dish, it’s so hearty and meaty and satisfying.
A twist on a ragout by the incredible chef David Tanis (his books are wonderful) this easy ragout will satisfy your soul.
HEARTY MUSHROOM RAGOUT
1 large onion, chopped
1 T salt; 1 T cracked black pepper; 1 t cracked red pepper (to start)
3 – 4 lbs. mushrooms (see note)
5 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
20-25 single sprigs of thyme, just the leaves
4 T tomato paste (I use double concentrate… or double it to 8)
Wooster (Worcestershire sauce)
2 cups mushroom broth (recipe follows, see note)
1 rib celery
2 bay leaves
NOTE ON MUSHROOMS: I use a variety and love all shapes and sizes. Bags or cartons of sliced mushrooms work great… but try to add variations. Whole button mushrooms (cremini!) can be halved and quartered… the smallest ones can be left whole (use the stems on all.) Take a couple of Portobello mushrooms and cut them into various sizes. The more sizes the better!
NOTE ON MUSHROOM BROTH: If you start the broth before you cut your onion, it will be ready enough to use by the time you get to the broth stage. Make a lot – it freezes beautifully and you will use it all the time.
Pour 3 healthy glugs of olive oil in a large pot. Add the chopped onion and sauté over low heat. (Remember, with onions, the lower and slower the better and more flavor… but if you need to go quicker, go ahead, just be careful.)
After 15 minutes or so, add the sliced garlic, a few healthy pinches of salt, a few healthy pinches of cracked black pepper and one healthy pinch of cracked red pepper. Stir and watch the garlic, which can brown. You want the garlic to sauté, get soft and add flavor but don’t let it brown.
Add all your mushrooms. Toss everything together, then turn the heat to high and cover. Wait eight minutes then remove the lid. You may be surprised how much liquid the mushrooms have released! (If there is no liquid, toss again, cover again and wait another 5 minutes.)
Turn heat to medium and continue to cook, uncovered, as the liquid begins to burn off. Taste here and there and add any of the three previous spices you need. By now, the mushrooms will be about half the level they were at the start. When the liquid is mostly reduced down but there is still a nice little layer of liquid in the pot:
Add 4 T tomato paste, a healthy splash of Wooster (Worcestershire sauce) and a healthy squirt of Anchovy paste. DON”T MISS the last two. You’ll never know they are there but they give the dish a wonderful burst of umami.
Stir well and continue to cook over medium. The liquid should slowly thicken quite a bit. (Many people add a few sprinkles of flour here. I don’t, because so many people are gluten free. I’ve found you don’t really need the flour. But feel free to add it here: Wondra flour works perfectly.) After 10 or so minutes, when it has thickened:
Add the mushroom broth. Leave over medium and it should still come to a bubble. If not, turn to medium high until it starts to bubble, then lower again.
Now… let it simmer and cook, 10 minutes at medium then turn to low. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until it thickens to a consistency you like. (I sometimes go 45 minutes to get it pretty thick.)
At some point in this final cooking stage, add 2 T or so of butter. Yum. It will help thicken the ragout and, well, yum.
When it is at your desire thickness… eat!
I love it over buttered pappardelle noodles, over polenta/grits, as a side for any protein, you can pour it over cauliflower steak, or just eat it with a spoon by itself. Another wonderful choice if you are avoiding pasta is over spaghetti squash ‘noodles’… just as good as pasta, if I say so myself.
Mushroom Broth (doubles or triples easily)
Into a pot put 4 cups water; a bay leaf; a few sprigs thyme; half an onion (with peel), a carrot and a celery stalk (all the veg cut into chunks); a package of dried mixed wild or porcini mushrooms and a handful of fresh mushrooms. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, 30 or so minutes. Strain well. (Cheesecloth is great here to get rid of the grit from the mushrooms, but you won’t die without that fine of a strain.)