Using a mixture of fresh and dried mushrooms, this Mushroom Bolognese is a deeply-flavored, satisfying alternative to the traditional ragù.
I can’t contain myself at a good farmer’s market. One sight of those glorious displays of just-picked produce and my knees go weak. Throw in tables with artisanal meats, cheeses, and breads and any willpower that might’ve been lurking is a lost cause. Not to mention the eggs! Nothing in the world beats a farm egg. Nothing.
Even at winter markets where the pickings are a little less bountiful, I always wind up coming home with more than I intended (not that I’m complaining). It’s fun to plan meals around what was fresh at the market and find new uses for old favorites. That’s how this Mushroom Bolognese found its way to my table. One weekend, I had planned to make a pot of traditional meat-based bolognese when I found myself standing at a market table with the most gorgeous baskets of mixed mushrooms. Since mushrooms can be a great substitute for beef, I thought it might be nice to try adding them to my sauce. Several trials later, I had a new bolognese recipe that’s become a favorite in my kitchen.
Traditional ragù alla bolognese is a labor of love with about as many recipe variations as there are cooks in the world. With multiple layers of slowly-rendered meats and vegetables, the ragù is rich, hearty, and deeply-flavored. Delicious on fresh-cut pasta or baked into the best lasagna you’ll ever eat, there’s nothing bad about bolognese. Sometimes, though, it’s nice to have a meal that’s just as comforting but lighter on the meat intake (especially with bathing suit season right around the corner).
Since mushrooms and pancetta are one of my favorite flavor combinations, I decided to keep the pancetta in my sauce, while omitting the ground beef, pork, and veal. (To make the sauce vegetarian, the pancetta is easily omitted from the initial sauté.) That first afternoon, my straight mushroom-for-meat swap turned out ok, but I wasn’t scraping the bowl for more. Rendered ground meats pack a real punch that fresh mushrooms alone didn’t match. Determined to give it another whirl, I tried adding reconstituted dried mushrooms (and their soaking liquid) for more prominent flavor. Bingo!
The final sauce was warm and satisfying, with an earthy mushroom flavor that complemented, but didn’t overpower, the sweet San Marzano tomatoes. The bolognese is delicious over pappardelle, but for a lower carb meal, we also enjoy spooning it over roasted chicken breasts or spaghetti squash. (Although, I would be totally lying if I didn’t admit that the pasta finds its way onto my plate more often than the squash. Despite my best intentions, my love affair with carbs is deep.)
- 1/2 ounce dried chanterelle mushrooms
- 1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
- 1 -1/2 cups hot water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 rib celery, finely diced (about 1/4 cup)
- 1 medium carrot, finely diced (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 small onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
- 4 ounces diced pancetta (omit for vegetarian)
- 1 pound fresh mixed mushrooms (such as button, cremini, and shiitake), coarsely chopped
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 (28 ounce) cans crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
- 2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves, torn
- 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn
- 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Soak dried chanterelle and porcini mushrooms in hot water for 30 minutes. Strain liquid through a coffee filter and set aside. Rinse mushrooms thoroughly, dry, and coarsely chop.
Heat olive oil in a stock pot or braisier over medium heat. Sauté celery, carrots, and onion 10-12 minutes until softened and just beginning to brown. Add pancetta and continue to sauté until pancetta is lightly crisp around the edges and the fat begins to render.
Add fresh mushrooms, salt, and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms release their liquid and begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and chopped reconstituted mushrooms and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add red wine to the pan and scrape up any brown bits that have accumulated on the bottom and sides. Add tomato paste and reserved mushroom soaking liquid, stirring to combine for 1-2 minutes. Stir in crushed tomatoes.
Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer, 40 minutes until thickened, stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat and stir in fresh oregano, basil, mascarpone, Parmigiano Reggiano, and grated nutmeg. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss sauce with pappardelle or tagliatelle, adding a few spoonfuls of reserved pasta cooking water to thin the sauce as needed.