For ages now, I’ve wanted to block off one meat-free day each week. It’s good for me, and it’s good for the environment. Paul McCartney’s Meat Free Monday site has a ton of information about what eating meat-free could do for the planet. Livestock production alone is responsible for 10-15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Avoiding meat once a week is the right thing to do. Unfortunately, until now I just haven’t been able to get my act together with respect to actually cooking vegetarian food. I own a bunch of beautiful vegetarian cookbooks, but that’s not enough to motivate me.
Yesterday wasn’t a completely meat free day. I confess, I had a BLT at lunch, and my dinner recipe had both pancetta and chicken broth. But not a lot of either! My intentions were good! When I was planning dinner, a Cook’s Illustrated recipe caught my eye: mushroom ragu in only 40 minutes. Since the weather in Boston is so cold and wet and miserable, this seemed like the perfect hearty, cozy after-work meal, so I stopped by the grocery store on my way home. The malfunctioning U-Scan machine rang my rosemary up at $82, but other than that, it was a quick trip. There aren’t many ingredients, but the whole is so much more than the sum of its parts. This is SO easy and tasty: it’s rich, earthy, and comforting. It’s definitely going into my regular rotation.
Hearty Mushroom Ragu
From Cook’s Illustrated, March 2011
1 lb spaghetti
1 oz dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
4 oz pancetta or bacon, cubed up
half a pound of portabello mushrooms
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
4 garlic cloves, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 14.5 oz can whole tomatoes. Don’t buy diced, because they won’t soften and melt into the sauce
salt and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1. Put the dried porcinis and the chicken broth into a microwave-safe bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap and cut few vents for steam to escape. Microwave the bowl for 1 minute, then let it sit in the microwave for 10 minutes so the mushrooms can absorb the broth and get nice and soft. Fish the mushrooms out with a fork and chop them. Put a coffee filter into a strainer and strain the chicken broth through that to get all of the mushroom grit out.
2. Clean the tops of the portobello mushrooms off with a damp paper towel. Pull off the stem, and scrape the gills out with a spoon. Chop the mushrooms into half-inch chunks.
2. In a big pan, cook the pancetta or bacon over medium heat until it’s crisp. Add the chopped portobellos, rehydrated porcinis, rosemary, garlic, olive oil, tomato paste, and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes. Cook that without stirring too much, or else the mushrooms will release a bunch of water instead of browning. Get the mushrooms and tomato paste looking nice and brown, around 10 minutes.
3. With your hands, squeeze the canned tomatoes. This is very satisfying. Add the tomatoes you’ve crushed to the pan, plus any juice that was in the can, and the strained chicken broth. Turn the heat to low and let it simmer until it’s nice and thick, around 10-15 minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary.
4. While that’s going, boil pot of water, dump a handful of salt in, and cook the spaghetti. Before you strain it, scoop out half a cup of the starchy pasta water. Stir the pasta water and the spaghetti into the ragu.
5. Top the pasta with grated pecorino cheese and enjoy!