After the events of the Monday’s stage, the Veggin’ household really needed some warming comfort food. We needed a family meal to eat together while we mourned the passing of Wouter Weylandt. We ate this meal watching Weylandt take the stage in a glorous sprint just a year before during stage three of the 2010 Giro. I had originally planned to do this recipe later in the week, but knew that this meal is what we needed to end what was a sad, sad day.
This dish is easy to make yet is just filled with flavor. Interestingly, although the ragu was creamy it light in texture so we didn’t feel like we needed a nap on the couch after eating a bowl of it. I think the credit lies in not using heavy cream but instead used flour as a thickening agent. Just be a little patient adding in the liquid little by little and you’ll be rewarded with a thicker ragu.
Porcini mushrooms are the base for this recipe. Porcini, meaning “piglet” in Italian, is revered for its earthy and nutty flavor. These little piglets live in the forest and form a mycorrhizal relationship with pine trees. Mycorrhizal? Yeah. That means that the porcini and the tree have a symbiotic relationship. The mushroom parks itself on the root of the tree and nibbles on the sugars the tree produces. Meanwhile, the large surface area of the mushroom provides better access to water and nutrients which then go into the root system of the tree. Now you’re fully equipped to bring that word up at the next cocktail party and know what it means. (And, if you score a date off of using “mycorrhizal” in a sentence you now have a recipe you can make!)
In the US, porcini mushrooms are usually found in a dried form that requires reconstituting (like in the recipe below). Stay away from packages that look like someone stomped the crud out of the mushrooms thus turning them into moon dust. You’ll just waste your money and end up with a cup full of nothing edible. If you find fresh porcini, those would be great to use – just find a mushroom broth so you don’t miss out on adding that as an extra flavor.
But, don’t let me finish up this post too soon. Let’s talk vermouth – which also appears in this recipe. It was invented in Italy sometime in the 1700’s. Apparently, the wines that were being produced were a little off-putting in taste, so a winemaker put together a variety of spices into a white wine to help improve the taste…and vermouth was born. (Hrm, I think this calls for a future post where I explore the history of the martini….)
I borrowed liberally from a recipe in Madhu Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian. In fact, so liberally that the only changes I made is the type of pasta I used and I used some of my homemade mushroom stock to enhance the flavor even more. The original recipe asks for fettuccine but I found the strozzapreti on my store shelf that intrigued me so I had to use it.
I hope that other cycling fans can also find as much comfort in this dish as we did.
Strozzapreti with a Mushroom Ragu
Madhu Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian
1/2 ounce dried, sliced porcini mushrooms
1 cup mushroom stock (original recipe calls for vegetable stock)
1/4 cup dry vermouth
6 Tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, peeled and very finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and very finely chopped
2 Tablespoons unbleached all-purpose white flour
10 ounces white mushrooms, thinly sliced
6 shiitake mushroom caps, thinly sliced (no stems)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1 pound strozzapreti pasta (original recipes calls for fettuccine)
Put the porcini mushrooms in a small bowl. Add 3/4 cup of boiling water and leave to soak 1 hour or longer until very soft. Remove the mushrooms, squeezing all their juice back into the bowl. Add the stock and vermouth to the liquid in the bowl. Set the mushrooms aside. Heat the mushroom liquid until it is very hot.
Put 2 Tablespoons of the oil, the shallot, and garlic in a small, heavy saucepan and set over medium heat. When the contents of the pot start sizzling, begin to watch carefully. As soon as the garlic is golden, put in the flour.
Stir the flour for a minute.
Now add the hot mushroom liquid, a little at a time, mixing it in with a wooden spoon. When all the liquid has been added, mix again to make sure there are no lumps. Simmer the sauce very gently on low heat for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring now and then. Turn off the heat.
Put the remaining 4 Tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan or saute pan and set over high heat. When hot, put in both dried and fresh mushrooms. Stir and saute them for about 2 minutes, or until they are satiny.
Now pour in the sauce and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat down to low and simmer very gently for 10 minutes. Add about 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper to taste, and the lemon juice. Stir to mix and taste again. Add the parsley to the ragout just before serving. (If you have made the ragout ahead of time, you will need to reheat it.)
Make pasta per package directions. Add the sauce and toss. Serve immediately.