Having bought a beautiful medley of mushrooms at the farmers’ market, I started dreaming of Italy. To this day, my husband and I still rave about one of the best pasta dishes we ever had: pappardelle and mushrooms at Rome’s Fiumicino airport of all places. Am I going to recreate it here? No, sorry. That was the original intention but as I delved into recipes to find a suitable vehicle for my fabulous funghi, I was distracted. Kind of like when you go into the kitchen to get a glass of water and forget why you’re there.
My ‘shroom searching led me to Mario Batali’s Sugo Di Funghi E Porro (Mushroom and Leek Ragu). Since I’d picked up leeks at the farmers’ market too, it seemed to be emminently auspicious. A vegan alternative to a traditional ragu bolognese, which I also love, was in order. Until that is, I found some pancetta in the fridge and, since bacon or its Italian cousin go with everything, I couldn’t resist.
Mario serves this with fresh tagliatelle. We weren’t in the mood to make fresh pasta so I went for two wheat-free options. I made polenta and then handed it over to the grill-meister. If you’ve never grilled polenta, I highly recommend it. Then I roasted a spaghetti squash and played pretend. The sauce is so delicious, you don’t notice the absence of pasta and the squash is filling. I make double the quantity of sauce and freeze it so I have a quick, easy meal at any time. You can even serve it over pasta! (My husband had the leftover ragu with rigatoni as you can see above).
Mushroom and Leek Ragu
- 2 thick slices pancetta (or any bacon that’s in the fridge), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 pound wild mushrooms (porcini, chanterelles ((if you can find them…)), crimini or oysters, preferably a mix)
- 1/2 onion chopped
- 2 leeks, washed and cut in half lengthways and into 1/2-inch rounds
- 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon thyme leaves
- Salt and pepper
- 1 cup Mario Batali’s basic tomato sauce or GOOD store-bought marinara sauce
- Wee bit of red wine or stock
- Parmigiano-Reggiano, for grating
Mario’s basic tomato sauce recipe is at http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/mario-batali/basic-tomato-sauce-recipe12/index.html
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 12- to 14-inch saute pan over medium-high heat. Cook pancetta until crispy and fat is rendered. Remove from pan with slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.
Increase heat to high and add 2 remaining tablespoons olive oil. Working in batches, add the mushrooms and saute over high heat until browned, about 2 to 3 minutes per batch. The mushrooms should not release their juices. Remove the mushrooms and add the onion, leeks, garlic, thyme leaves and salt and pepper to taste. (Go lightly on the salt; you can adjust the seasoning after you add the pancetta back in).
Cook for 5 more minutes, then add the tomato sauce. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and add the pancetta and mushrooms. If needed, add stock or red wine by the 1/4 cup (if wine, just make sure it’s not from your glass). Cook 10 more minutes and set aside.
Serve with pasta, grilled polenta or spaghetti squash.