Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mushroom Bolognese

When I first arrived in Montreal my in-laws took me to an Italian grocery store called Milano Fruiterie on Saint-Laurent Blvd. Whenever possible my husband and I return to scout for interesting or unusual Italian ingredients. I recently found strained tomatoes on the shelf there. I was using canned tomatoes to make my sauce but I now prefer strained tomatoes. Strained tomatoes are a tomato puree with the seeds and skins filtered out. Since discovering this useful ingredient I have noticed that it is stocked at most grocery stores. This tomato puree is generally packaged in boxes or tall glass jars. If you cannot find strained tomatoes, tomato sauce would be a good substitute.

This is my basic dish when I get a craving for pasta with red sauce. My recipe breaks two very often-repeated cooking rules - horror! First of all, I want clean mushrooms. This means I lightly scrub them with the mushroom brush under running water until all the particles are removed. I know that professionals advise against running water over your mushrooms as it ruins the flavor, but frankly, I would rather have less flavor than more particles. Dry the mushrooms on paper towels, slice and cook as instructed below.

Second, it must be mentioned that I do not salt my pasta water for red sauce dishes. I know, I know, chefs are always guiding us to salt, but I like the flavor of unsalted cooked pasta. When it is coated in a sauce that has salt and salty cheese as well, I think we can make adjustments to our salt intake somewhere in the dish. So rather than go into salt coma, I abstain from cooking my pasta in saltwater. This sauce breaks the rules and is still fantastic, but you choose what is best for you.

The pasta in my photo is called Fusilli Lunghi. It is shaped like a telephone cord. It looked fun and it was on sale at the Italian grocery store so I couldn't resist. Use whatever pasta you love for this recipe.

8 ounces of mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound extra lean ground beef
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 box (26 ounces) strained tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon dark agave nectar
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 pound pasta
Grated Parmesan cheese, to serve

In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. When hot add the mushrooms and cook about 3 minutes to release the water. Drain and set aside.

In the same pot, brown beef over medium-high heat, about 5 minutes. Use a spatula to crumble the beef. Add the onion and garlic; cook until onion is translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes, paste, agave and seasonings. Stir to combine. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering cook the pasta. This generally takes 10 minutes in boiling water. Drain pasta and add to the sauce. Serve with Parmesan.

Serves 4

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