We had heavy rain followed by a day or two of very mild weather, so mushrooms were yet again on the menu. I went out in the rain and collected half a bucket of them, so had decided to make a cream of mushroom soup. I thought cream of mushroom soup recipes would be common as muck, but had paged through nearly all my recipe books before i came across one, in Alison Holst's 'Meals without Meat'. Of course i should have gone straight to my trusty "Edmonds Cookbook' for something so 'common', but i tend to refer to Edmonds for baking, preserves, and not a lot else. Anyway, in the course of my searching i came across another method of disposing of large amounts of mushrooms that seemed a little more interesting than soup, if only because it was something i had previously never tried or even heard of. Plus, it had the added bonus of being served on soft polenta, which won it automatic plussage points from both the husband and myself. The recipe was in a small (A3 sized) Women's Weekly cookbook titled 'Vege Main Meals',
that was published in 2005.
I've made two changes to the recipe - the first was to add two teaspoonsful of prepared chilli paste, to the mushroom ragout, as i found the original ever so slightly bland; the other change i have made is to provide you with Jamie Oliver's polenta recipe in place of the Women's Weekly recipe, because i like his recipe better. Jamie does add a LOT of Parmesan to his polenta, which is a surefire way to make it taste good, but i never use as much Parmesan as he suggests, because i can't afford to go through Parmesan at that rate! Suffice it to say, the more the merrier, but if, like me, you expect your block of Parmesan to remain (ever shrinking) in the fridge for some time, just use as much as you are comfortable using to suit your budget. If you are using substantially less Parmesan than Jamie does, consider adding a bit of extra butter.
The Women's Weekly say that the ragout can be made a day ahead (but make the polenta on the day of serving); we had some left-over ragout for lunch the next day, and the flavour had definitely developed, so i would recommend making the ragout a day ahead if you can possibly manage to.
You will see that the recipe calls for a total of 1200g of mushrooms, which is a LOT of mushrooms; i thought i had heaps, but once i cleaned, trimmed and weighed them i found i only had 700g. That was fine, as the recipe claims to serve 8, and i was making a half-recipe, so i actually included more mushrooms than the 600g required.
One further tip; if you are on a bit of a budget, a good way to buy wine for cooking is in cardboard casks - i always have a 2 litre cask of a dry white and a red wine in in the cupboard specifically for cooking with. If you open a bottle of wine for cooking it needs to be used up within a day or two, which is no problem at all if you can afford to use good quality wine in your cooking. However if you are like me, and it seems wasteful to use 'good' wine in cooking, then you end up with a part bottle of plonk to dispose of, which you might otherwise never deign to drink. Cask wine avoids this problem, as it keeps well, so you can use as much or as little as required, and you can save your nice wine for direct consumption. I have no doubt that serious cooks would be shocked at my use inferior quality wine in my cooking, and while i am sure that the use of a delicious wine would enhance the flavour of whatever dish i happen to be making, i'd just rather make my money go a little further.
MUSHROOM RAGOUT with SOFT POLENTA
From the Australian Women's Weekly 'Vegie Main Meals' (2009)
2 large brown onions (400g), chopped coarsely
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup (35g) plain flour
400g button mushrooms
400g swiss brown mushrooms, quartered
400g flat mushrooms, sliced thickly
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons prepared chilli paste
2/3 cup (160ml) dry red wine
2 cups water
2 cups vegetable stock
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme, tough stalks removed.
From Jamie Oliver's 'Jamie's Italy' - quatities as required for the Ragout recipe above.
2.25 litres water
170g Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Heat butter in a large saucepan; cook onion and garlic, stirring, until onion softens. Add flour, cook, stirring, until the mixture bubbles. Add mushrooms, cook, stirring, until mushrooms are just tender.
Add tomato paste and wine to mushroom mixture, bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, until liquid reduces by half. Add the 2 cups of water and the 2 cups of stock; return to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered for 30 minutes. Stir in the thyme.
Meanwhile, bring a large pan with 2.25 litres of salted water to the boil and slowly whisk in the polenta. As soon as it starts to boil it will start blipping all over the place, so put a lid on the pan, slightly ajar and turn the heat right down. When it thickens up a little it won't be quite so aggressive. Try to give it a stir every 4 or 5 minutes, getting right into the sides of the pan. After about half an hour's cooking, add a little more water so the consistency is like thickly whipped cream - i.e. slightly loose. It should thickly but easily lollop off the end of a spoon. Once it is cooked, remove the pan from the heat and add the butter and Parmesan. Mix together and carefully season to taste.
Serve mushroom ragout on polenta