Mushroom Sugo

My dad is the kind of dad who will notice we aren’t doing something to his standards and then just take over. (Insert growly voice.) “The recipe says mince, not finely chop, but mince. This isn’t minced.” I’m happy to report that my father is now in charge of mincing around here. (Was this all part of cunning plan on my side? I’ll never tell.)

What we were making that precipitated the great mincing event this week was one of our absolutely favorite sauces for pasta or polenta, a Genoese mushroom sugo or mushroom sauce. The recipe comes from Darrell Corti of the Sacramento gourmet grocery Corti Bros. The recipe is Darrell’s grandmother’s and appeared in Saveur in 2001.

This recipe is a testament to the adage that good things take time. Although the ingredients couldn’t be more simple, the slow cooking at various stages deeply enhances the flavors. First “minced” onions are slowly cooked in olive oil until they begin to caramelize and turn a rich golden color. Then carrots are added, cooked for a while, then celery, and finally garlic and herbs. After the wine, tomato sauce, mushroom soaking water and mushrooms are added, the sauce still cooks for another hour and a half. The sauce is so good I just want to eat it straight with a spoon (and will if it’s anywhere in reaching distance). It shines over polenta, ravioli, or a short pasta like penne or fusilli.

  • Prep: 30 minutes
  • Cook: 3 hours
  • Yield: Serves 8.

The onions cook for a long time, during which you can prep the rest of the vegetables if you want to save some time. If you are using dry herbs, use half as much. The mincing is important, as the sauce is not strained or puréed.

Ingredients

  • 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • 4 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, peeled and minced (yielding about 2 cups minced onion)
  • 2 carrots, peeled and minced (yielding about 1 1/2 cups minced carrots)
  • 3 celery ribs, minced (yielding about 1 1/2 cups minced celery)
  • 6-8 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 bunch parsely, minced (yielding 1/3 cup loosely packed)
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh marjoram (we didn't have marjoram growing so we used fresh oregano instead, which has a similar flavor)
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 15-ounce can of tomato sauce
  • 1 beef bouillon cube (use vegetable bouillon cube for vegetarian option)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Method

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1 Place dry mushrooms to soak in a bowl with 2 cups of warm water. Set aside. mushroom-sugo-1.jpgmushroom-sugo-2.jpg

2 Heat olive oil in a medium, thick-bottomed pot (4 or 5 quart) over medium heat. Add the minced onions and stir to coat with the olive oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions turn a deep golden color, about 30 to 40 minutes. Adjust the heat lower if necessary to keep the onions from drying out.

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3 Add the minced carrots and cook for 5-6 more minutes. Add the celery and cook until soft, about 10 more minutes. Add the garlic, parsley, rosemary, thyme and marjoram. Cook for 4-5 minutes more.

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4 Remove the porcini from the soaking liquid, reserving the liquid. (The easiest way to do this we found is to pour the porcini and soaking liquid through a coffee filter, into a bowl or measuring cup. This helps remove any grit that may be lingering in the soaking liquid.) Finely chop the mushrooms and add to the vegetables in the pot. mushroom-sugo-7.jpgmushroom-sugo-8.jpg

5 Push the vegetables to one side of the pot and increase the heat to high. Add the 1/2 cup of red wine to the side of the pot without the vegetables and cook on high heat for 2-3 minutes.

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6 Add the tomato sauce, 1 1/2 cups of the mushroom soaking liquid, the bouillon cube (break it up with your fingers as you add it), and the bay leaf to the pot. Bring to a simmer and reduce the heat to low. Add ground black pepper to taste. Cover the pot and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2 hours. Discard the bay leaf.

Serve over polenta or toss with ravioli or other pasta.

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