A trench coat can be worn both by an old-school, cigar-chomping private eye, and an elegant woman in a little black dress with equal aplomb.
This mushroom ragout is kind of like that.
It can be the principal component of a show-stopping hors d’oeuvre, a succulent sauce, or an unctuous, creamy soup, with very little adjustment between them.
When my brother Bud got married, he wanted a small wedding at our parents’ home. The wedding party went out for dinner later, but my mom wanted to have cake and an assortment of finger foods at the house after the ceremony. The Kid, home from culinary school in Vermont, wanted to cater.
There was a mixture of sweet and savory. The hit confection was a strawberry cream puff. But hands down the most popular bite that day was The Kid’s mushroom ragout spooned into hand-made cornmeal tartlets. There was not one drop left.
A traditional ragout is not a jar of spaghetti sauce from the supermarket, but a long, slowly cooked, creamy stew of meat or fish. This dish is made of mushrooms, and a few other ingredients you probably already have on hand.
The true beauty of this recipe though is its versatility. Made thick you can spoon it on toasts, pastry shells or browned rounds of grits or polenta. Then sprinkle the tops with chives or fresh parsley.
Thin the ragout a bit with chicken stock, and it’s a rib-sticking, soul-nourishing cream soup. You can then use it in recipes that call for that ubiquitous red can of soup.
Thin it out some more, and you’ve got a delicious sauce that can be used on everything from pork chops to pasta.
And the recipe itself is totally adaptable. No white wine? Use sherry, brandy, stock, or even water. Like garlic, but hate onions? Amp up one and eliminate the other. You’ve got half and half but no cream? Use it instead.
Lastly, some important advice: although the recipe can be played with in almost every other way, and the amount of the skim milk is relatively small, don’t leave it out or substitute something else. There’s some magical property of fat-free dairy that prevents the ragout from separating. This works for any type of cream sauce.
The Kid’s Mushroom Ragout
2 pounds any type mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
½ yellow onion or 1 large shallot diced
1 teaspoon dried or 3 teaspoons fresh thyme
3 tablespoons butter or vegetable oil
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
2/3 cup white wine
2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup skim milk
½ cup shredded Parmesan, Manchego or other dry, hard cheese
Salt and freshly cracked pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Juice of half a lemon
In a large heavy skillet, sauté mushrooms and onions on medium. Season and add thyme. When the veg are caramelized, put in garlic and cook 30 seconds. Add wine, scrape up any bits from the bottom, and cook until the pan’s dry (called deglazing).
Stir in dairy and cheese. Add nutmeg. Let bubble away until it’s reduced to the consistency of mustard or pesto. Remove from heat, add lemon juice and taste for seasoning.
At this point you can thin it with stock for another purpose. Makes about 2 cups.
And contrary to my witty, witty title, I really don’t recommend its use as spackle. The thought of this ambrosia filling any hole other than a pie hole is heart-breaking.
Thanks for your time.