In her lovely, and now classic book from 2007, The Art of Simple Food, Alice Waters presents an encyclopedia of “simple” foods. Her skill is the transformation of simple ingredients into dishes of elegance and culinary power. Take mushrooms. Simple mushrooms. Take, in fact, a couple of pounds of them and convert them into a mushroom ragu that you can apply to pasta or put atop a roasted chicken. There is richness here that you will relish.

And, if you want some variation, Alice suggests adding ½ cup of peas or cooked greens –  spinach, rocket, or chard — right at the final moment when you are adding in the broth and cream.

I’m copying Alice’s recipe here in that “other” style where the ingredients are mentioned just at the time you use them. So, be sure to read this recipe through a couple of times to take notes and make sure you have all the ingredients on hand. You want ragu, not an “oops” moment!


Mushroom Ragu

Yield: 2 cups

Heat in a large, heavy skillet:

2 tablespoons olive oil

Add and cook over medium heat, until very tender:

1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced fine

1 large carrot, peeled and diced fine

2 celery stalks, diced fine

Salt

When cooked through, with no crunch but with little or no browning, add:

6 thyme sprigs, leaves picked from the stems

6 parsley sprigs, leaves only, chopped

1 bay leaf

Cook for 1minute. Add and cook for 5 minutes:

½ cup diced tomatoes

Set aside. Carefully clean and slice:

2 pounds mushrooms (choose a mixture of two or three types: chanterelles, black trumpets, hedgehogs, brown or white button mushrooms; yes, my photo only has one type but you really can do it that way!)

If the mushrooms are very dirty, it will be necessary to wash them (crunching down on dirt and sand is very unpleasant). The mushrooms may take on some water, but it will be thrown off shortly after they hit the hot pan. As they cook, the mushrooms will give off liquid; let the juices boil away or tip off the juices and set them aside. Continue cooking the mushrooms until lightly browned (you may need to add a little more oil or butter).

The reserved juices can be added back to the sauce later in place of some of the water or broth. Sauté each type of mushroom separately, until tender and lightly browned using

Olive oil and a little butter

Turn the cooked mushrooms onto a board and chop to the size of the cooked vegetables. Combine with the vegetables and herbs in the large skillet and add:

½ cup cream or creme fraiche

1 cup water or chicken broth

Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Taste for salt and add as needed. Add more liquid if the ragu becomes too thick.


Source: The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters and Patricia Curtain [Clarkson Potter, 2007]