Friday, October 7, 2011

Ragu Finto with Cheese Polenta

I considered changing the title of this recipe, since it makes me bristle.  Finto means 'fake' in Italian, with the implication that this ragu somehow wasn't real because it doesn't contain meat.  Well, it tasted quite real enough to me thank you very much.  Real savory tomatoes and porcini mushrooms, real homemade polenta, and very real to the taste buds and tummy.  To be fair, a ragu is defined in the dictionary as any meat-based sauce, hence this finto version tonight.  But hopefully you'll find it quite real in satisfying your hunger.

For the ragu:
  • 2 cups boiling water, divided
  • 1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms 
  • 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, packed without oil
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 and 1/2 cups finely chopped red onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 5 cups finely chopped cremini mushrooms
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 cup vegan dry red wine
  • 2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
For the polenta:
  • 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 and 1/2 cups water
  • 1 and 1/2 cups plain non-dairy milk
  • 1/2 cup shredded vegan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons vegan Parmesan sprinkles (such as Galaxy Foods)
1. To prepare the ragu, cover the dried porcinis with 1 cup boiling water in a bowl; cover and let stand for 15 minutes.  Drain the porcinis through a sieve over a bowl, and reserve the soaking liquid.  Discard the porcini stems.  Finely chop the porcini caps; set aside.

2. At the same time, cover the sun-dried tomatoes with 1 cup boiling water in a bowl. Cover and let stand for 15 minutes.  Drain and finely chop the tomatoes; set aside.

3. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the red onion and garlic; cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

4. Add the cremini mushrooms, rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and crushed red pepper.  Cover and cook for 5 minutes.  Uncover and cook for a final 5 minutes, until the liquid is almost all evaporated.

Note: this mixture of aromatics and finely chopped vegetables is known as a "soffritto" in an Italian ragu.  Not to be confused with bottled sofrito (often a mix of tomato, onion, and peppers), it refers to the vegetables that are sauteed in fat (in this case olive oil) as the base of a ragu, to help develop a rich, hearty flavor.

5. Add the chopped porcini caps, the reserved soaking liquid, the chopped sun-dried tomatoes, the red wine, and the flat-leaf parsley.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 12 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, prepare the polenta: place the cornmeal and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a saucepan.  Gradually add the water and milk, stirring constantly with a whisk.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until thickened.

7. Remove from heat and stir in the shredded cheese of your choice.  I liked the Gouda from Sheese in this recipe, which mimics a sharp, nutty cheese like Gruyere.

Note: you'll wind up with a soft polenta, so don't expect it to be as firm as the store-bought kind in a tube.  Still creamy enough to stir, the polenta will also be thick enough to hold its shape, as shown in the picture below.

8. Place 1 cup polenta on each of 4 shallow plates or bowls, and top each serving with 1 cup ragu.  Sprinkle each serving with 1 and 1/2 teaspoons Parmesan sprinkles.

Nutrition Info:
4 servings (1 cup polenta, 1 cup ragu, 1 and 1/2 teaspoons Parmesan), Calories 334 

Tasting Notes:
The amazing sun-dried tomato flavor hit me first, followed by the richness of the porcini broth.  The polenta was creamy with a nice touch from the cheese.  There was perhaps the tiniest bit too much red wine in the broth - I would decrease the amount to 3/4 cup next time.  That would also help solve the problem that the ragu is a little too watery.  I would either evaporate off more liquid next time, or serve over a pasta like linguine, which would soak up a bit more sauce than the polenta did.  But a very filling one-dish dinner, and verging on "5" for taste.


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