Two Italian-Style Mushroom Sauces
by Fungi Perfecti
Mushroom Marinara is simple to make, great on fried mushrooms (fried maitake especially—they are remarkably calamari-like in texture!), and freezes beautifully. No real recipe is needed—saute lots of chopped mushrooms, onions, and bell peppers in olive oil until soft. Add mixed Italian seasoning to taste (LOTS—several tablespoons anyway—mushrooms go really well with oregano in particular) and a bay leaf and a sprig of rosemary. Add a can each of tomato puree, crushed tomatoes, and tomato paste and stir well. Bring to a boil, add salt and crushed red pepper to taste, along with lots of chopped garlic (at least two or three cloves) and a big splash of red wine, bring to a boil, and simmer for an hour or so, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Taste and if the sauce is a bit too acid for your taste add a bit of brown sugar—perhaps a tablespoon or so.
Mushroom Ragu: For something a lot more elaborate (but with FANTASTIC flavor) you need to pick a mushroom (like honey mushrooms or hen-of-the-woods or chicken-of-the-woods) that stands up to substantial cooking: Course chop a large onion, several carrots, several stalks of celery, a bell (or other) pepper, and at least a pound of mushrooms. Then put them all in a food processor—in batches unless the one you have is huge—and grind them all finely. Heat some olive oil in a large heavy pot and brown the mixture well—along with an equal amount of ground meat if not making a veggie version. This will take a long time, as the vegetable mixture has lots of water that has to come out—but doing a good job of browning is what MAKES this sauce so don’t skimp. Throw in a couple bay leaves and a big sprig of rosemary. Keep stirring, and have some stock (again veggie or meat as you prefer) and a bottle of good red wine handy, and add a splash of each of them whenever the mixture begins to stick, stirring well to get the brown bits off the bottom of the pot. This will take a long time but it is the carmelized veggies and mushrooms that MAKE this dish, so keep at it. When the mixture is pretty brown, add mixed Italian seasoning to taste (at least a couple tablespoons) and a can of tomato paste, and keep stirring until IT browns TOO—adding more stock and wine but ONLY AS NEEDED to remove the brown bits from the bottom when they stick too much (this will eventually use up at least half the bottle of wine--and might well use it ALL—again, don’t skimp—but don’t rush this either as the tomato paste won’t brown if you add too much liquid too fast!) When the redness of the tomato paste has turned to bronze, add a lot of chopped garlic (at least 3-4 cloves) and salt and crushed red pepper to taste. Then add more stock if needed, but go easy there-- a genuine ragu is a very thick--and just bursting with flavor!