I find our relationship to critters like molds and fungus very interesting. It’s so divided. When we find mold on our bread we wrinkle up our noses and shuttle the bread right into the garbage (or compost, if we’re being virtuous). But, if it’s in our bleu cheese, we’re thrilled by it and the strength of flavor it adds. If we have a fungus on our foot…well that’s not even something I really want to bring up on a food blog. And then there’s a variety of fungi, astutely given names like “death cap” and “destroying angel”, that will kill us quickly if we eat them. But then there’s a whole subset, from shiitakes to morels to truffles, that people will easily pay almost ludicrous sums for, and that, when added to food, add incomparable flavor (though I’m still not entirely convinced that the texture can be vouched for). If I go to a restaurant and I reach something that contains sautéed mushrooms, I have a tendency to stop right there and look no further for what I’m going to order (well, unless there’s a dish with a competing fixation of mine, ie. caramelized onions or avocado, then I go into contortions having to choose).
I love mushrooms, though I’m afraid no one will ever, ever be able to convince me that a grilled portabella burger is a substitute for a hamburger. However, treating mushrooms as mushrooms, they make for a great star in meatless dishes (or meat-ed dishes for that matter!). Give me a grilled portabella on some bread with goat cheese, pesto, and roasted red peppers and I’ll be one happy sandwich-eating camper. Normally I don’t cook with mushrooms half as often as I’d like to because I don’t think to buy them if I happen to be at a grocery store. But, this last week has been an exception, big time. I can’t stop cooking with them! They’re everywhere! Poor Joel (the wonderful man in my life, who still misguidedly under appreciates pumpkin pie) works very near to a super market, and almost every night of the last week he has received an email from me at work suggesting that maybe he was secretly hoping to go to the store again and pick up some more mushrooms, and since he probably was hoping this that perhaps I might support him in doing so. And so the mushrooms make their way into supper again and again.We made a very awesome supper (which was Joel’s idea, I give him full credit), that involved frying bacon, then frying shallots and mushrooms in the bacon fat, adding bok choy, some wine and chicken broth, simmering for a while, then serving over rice, topped with the chopped bacon. And then I made this mushroom ragout. We were having some good friends over for supper, one of whom is a vegetarian. What to cook? Mushrooms! I thought I would make kind of a hearty mushroom sauce and serve it over mashed root vegetables (I may have gotten onto the mushroom train, but I haven’t gotten off of the mashing train yet). We didn’t have any wine, which is what I would normally use as the cooking liquid in a ragout, and I couldn’t substitute chicken broth because that won’t fly with the herbivores. What we had was beer. And I thought, beer is hearty and flavorful. I’ve used it in stews before, why not with these mushrooms. I also turned up some more sour cream in the fridge, which I decided to stir in at the tail end of the cooking, to add some creaminess and additional heartiness. Something about cooking mushrooms, and onions, with beer got me thinking about beer brats, which led to me thinking about the even more delicious cheddar beer brats, and it occurred to me that cheddar definitely needed to be worked into the meal somehow. So I wound up grating some sharp cheddar into the parsnips and carrots as I mashed them. It turned out to be a wonderful, warming meal for a winter night. We barely had room for the cranberry pear pie for dessert (which is saying something)!
Mushroom ragout with cheddar mashed root vegetables (serves about 6)
For the ragout:
- 2 rectangular containers of mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (sorry I don’t know the actual weight. Also, I used the really nondescript button mushrooms mixed with baby bellas and it turned out great, but if you wanted to use nicer mushrooms, I’m sure it would be even better)
- 1 onion
- 1 bottle of beer (I used a winter beer, kind of medium dark. I’d recommend using something that isn’t bitter – no IPAs for this, as much as I love them)
- Dried thyme
- A generous dollop of sour cream (a dash of heavy cream would work as well)
- Salt and pepper
For the root vegetable mash:
- 4-5 carrots
- 4-5 parsnips
- ½ cup grated cheddar
- A bit of milk or cream
- First prepare the root vegetables. Peel the carrots and parsnips, remove their tops and chop them into short pieces. Put in a large pot and fill with water to just cover the veggies. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down to a simmer and cook 30 or so minutes until the veggies are soft and easy to pierce with a fork. (While they are cooking you can prepare the mushrooms) Once they are cooked, drain the water off, leaving the carrots and parsnips in the pot. Add a large pat of butter and about a quarter cup of milk or cream, and mash. Add the grated cheddar and mash some more. Stir to make sure the cheese is spread throughout.
- To prepare the ragout, peel and slice the onion into strips. Heat a Tablespoon or so (maybe more like 2) in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until most of the liquid that the mushrooms give off is gone (around 15 minutes) – just by way of general cooking advice, you always want to cook mushrooms for long enough to evaporate the moisture they give off before you add other things, otherwise they’ll be soggy and significantly less delicious.
- Add the beer and a sprinkling of thyme (about 1 tsp) and simmer over medium-low until much of the liquid is evaporated so the sauce is fairly thick. Turn off the heat and stir in sour cream and salt and pepper to taste. Serve over the mashed root vegetables.
- By the way, if you do have wine, you could certainly use that in the ragout, instead of the beer. I’m certain it will be delicious. I would then switch the cheese in the root vegetables to something more piquant that’s known to go with wine – like Parmesan or Asiago.