For the record, I didn’t set out to make a vegetarian ragù that would masquerade as the king of Italian meat sauces. In fact, I’m normally a little annoyed when people disguise vegetables as classic meat staples. Hot dogs are not supposed to be vegetarian. Nor is bacon and meatloaf is simply not meatloaf when it does not contain meat.
But for this sauce, I’m willing to make an exception.
This sauce looks very much like the real-deal Bolognese sauce. Other than the quartered Crimini mushrooms, it is very finely textured and velvety. It smells of earthy, woodsy Porcini mushrooms, reduced red wine, tomatoes, and rosemary. It doesn’t exactly replicate the taste of a meat-based Bolognese but that is not its main objective. It’s main objective is to satisfy and comfort.
Round up your ingredients. Lots of fresh Crimini mushrooms and a handful of dried Porcini. Carrot, celery, shallot, garlic. Red wine. Tomatoes and tomato paste. Sprig of rosemary. A bay leaf or 2.
Carrots, celery, shallots, and garlic get pulsed in the processor to make a pestata, then tossed in the pot.
Crushed tomatoes, Porcini soaking liquid, and aromatics. Now all that’s left is waiting.
- 1# Crimini Mushrooms, quartered
- ¼ c. Dried Porcini, reconstituted in 1 c. water(water reserved), chopped
- 2 Carrots, roughly chopped
- 1 stalk Celery, roughly chopped
- 1 lg. Shallot, roughly chopped
- 2 cloves Garlic
- 2 Tbsp. Tomato Paste
- 1 c. Dry Red Wine
- 1 can(14.5 oz) Plum Tomatoes, crushed
- 1 sprig Fresh Rosemary
- 3 Dried Bay Leaves, divided
- 1 c. Coarse Ground Polenta (Cornmeal Grits)
- ¼ c. Mascarpone Cheese
- ¼ c. Pine Nuts, toasted
- In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat 1 Tbsp. each butter and olive oil. Add Crimini mushrooms and sauté until golden, 8-10 minutes. Add chopped Porcini mushrooms and briefly sauté.
- Meanwhile, combine carrots, celery, shallot, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Process until vegetables are very finely chopped, almost a paste(pestata).
- Add the pestata to the mushrooms, season with salt, and sauté until the vegetables release their moisture, about 3 minutes. Clear a little spot and add the tomato paste. Let it darken slightly before stirring it into the rest of the vegetables. If the pan seems too dry at any point, add a drizzle of olive oil.
- After the tomato paste has been incorporated, pour in the red wine and let it simmer for 2-3 minutes until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add crushed tomatoes, reserved Porcini soaking water, rosemary, and 2 bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer, partially covered, until the sauce is thick and rich, about 45 minutes. Remove bay leaves and rosemary stem, season with salt and black pepper.
- Meanwhile, bring 4 c. water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add ½ tsp. salt and 1 bay leaf and slowly whisk in polenta. Bring it back up to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, stirring frequently until the polenta is soft, 35-40 minutes. Remove from heat. Remove bay leaf and stir in Mascarpone to finish.
- Divide the polenta between warm bowls and spoon the mushroom sauce over the top. Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts.