This mushroom ragu (or mushroom ragout) makes use of the rich earthy tastes of mushrooms for a delicious vegetarian ragu recipe. It’s also a great excuse to cook with mushrooms, and yet another mushroom recipe to add to your repertoire.
The base of the ragu is a classic soffritto of celery, carrots and onion. Whilst and a (big) splash of wine finishes it off to give you a delicious mushroom ragu to pair with your gnocchi, polenta or pasta.
To enrich the flavours it’s important to spend time simmering and reducing the sauce, but it is still technically very simple, and it’s easy to make a big batch or to cook ahead for a dinner party.
Whilst mushrooms are the mainstay of the flavour, the base of the recipe is a healthy mix of vegetables making this a great vegetarian (or vegan if you leave off the cheese) dinner meal.
Is it a mushroom ragu? or a mushroom bolognese? Is it even a ruddy sauce?!?!
A ragu makes a great change to the similar, but more commonly cooked bolognese. But, despite understanding there is a difference I’m never 100% clear on what that difference is supposed to be… until now(ish).
Both ragu and bolognese are classic Italian flavours, both usually have tomatoes and meat. They’re also both made with a base of soffritto – diced or chopped carrot, onion and celery. Both, of course, have vegetarian versions – in this case the ‘meat’ is mushrooms.
The difference between the two is the emphasis that is put on the meat vs the tomatoes.
A ragu is a meat-sauce with some tomatoes in it – although you could argue that a ragu isn’t even a sauce. The reason I say this is that a ragu should be thick enough that it doesn’t really ‘pour’ like a sauce.
It’s packed with minced veg too – onion, celery and carrots are classic flavours for the base – with red wine often added, along with some cream or grated parmesan to enrich and thicken the ragu further. Pancetta is a common addition. The meat is typically lamb, veal or beef but can be a huge range – again it is usually minced.
In summary, a ragu should be rich and thick, filled with chunks and texture, and without too much liquid ‘sauce’.
What’s in a bolognese then?
A bolognese, on the other hand, has many of the same ingredients but is a much thinner sauce – plenty of tomato is added. Often you would add this as a tomato passatta rather than chopped tomatoes. Onion, celery and carrots are still frequently the vegetable base.
The main difference with a bolognese is the ratio of tomato to other ingredients, more tomato giving bolognese it a classic sauce texture.
Having made these huge generalist statements, it’s important to note that actually exactly what these dishes are varies hugely within Italy itself. Just like a Pizza in Rome can be remarkably different to a pizza, well, anywhere else in the country! I’ve described a North-Italian ragu above, in the South the meat is often cooked whole or in chunks in the sauce (e.g. a steak rather than minced beef) and may actually be removed from the sauce prior to serving.
Mushrooms are delicious. This is reason enough for me! I’ve previously written a lot about my love for mushrooms here.
We have a lot of gorgeous dried mushrooms in the house from my girlfriend’s family. They forage them in the autumn when the woods are filled with them – if you know what to look for and where to find them. And how not to poison yourself doing it of course.
They’re also cheap to buy, and healthy. And so versatile. We’ll always pick up a big bag of mushrooms in the supermarket because they go with breakfast through to dinner, and can be fitted brilliantly into cuisines from Mexico to Britain, up to India or on an Aussie barbecue.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again… If you only buy chestnut or white closed cup mushrooms at the moment, branch out and try something else as well. Portobello and mini-portebello mushrooms have a richer and nutty taste and are widely availably,.
If you’re willing to spend a bit more, and it’s well worth it I promise, then have a look online. For example fine food specialists do a great range of exciting tastes to try –> link here.
The mushrooms I’ve got at home were some basic chestnut mushrooms, and some dried Boletus edulis beauties!
Mushrooms make a great main
Because they’re so flavoursome and versatile, and create such rich juice, I personally always think that mushrooms make a great alternative to meat dishes. They’re also so much cheaper, lower calories, don’t have bad fats, are packed with fibre, protein and important vitamins and minerals – in short they taste great and turn any meal into a very healthy meal!
So – let’s get cooking our mushroom ragu!
Mushroom ragu (or mushroom ragout) – delicious vegetarian ragu
- 250 g fresh mushrooms Chestnut or portobello
- 50 g dried mushrooms Porcini are great and widely available, I used boletus edulis, you could also replace with more fresh mushrooms
- 2-3 medium celery sticks
- 2 medium carrots
- 1 yellow or red bell pepper
- 1 medium-large white onion
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- 2 cups vegetable stock
- 200ml white wine
- 2 tbsp oregano or thyme
- 1-2 tbsp smokey paprika
- Salt and pepper to taste
Ingredients to serve with:
- gnocchi or pasta to serve
- pinch of chilli flakes to serve
- grated cheese to serve
- Rehydrate your dried mushrooms as per their packet instructions – this normally takes about 10 minutes, so get going with the next steps while they wait.
- Add your oil the your pan and put on a gentle heat. You'll need a large and deep pan for this meal.
- Dice your onion and crush/mince your garlic – add to the frying pan and allow to cook gently, don't brown but stir occasionally so it softens and goes transluscent. This will take about 5 minutes.
- Now dice your carrots, pepper and celery – add to the pan when your onions look appropriately cooked. Stir well, and leave to sautee – we should still on a farily low heat.
- Next dice 2/3rds of your fresh mushrooms, and thinly slice all your dried mushrooms. When they're done add them to your pan of diced veg, and mix well.Cook all of this together for about 10-15 minutes until it has sweated down and become nice and fragrant!
- The rest of your mushrooms should be thickly sliced, just to add visual intrigue and texture to the meal – these go in now, with all the liquid ingredients, the herbs and paprika.
- Your pan will now look very liquid-ey, but don't worry!Cook for around another 30 minutes, simmering gently uncovered and reducing the sauce down until only a little liquid remains. Stir every few minutes to make sure nothing is sticking, and don't allow it to burn. This shouldn't be a problem as long as you don't over-reduce it, or let it run dry.
- Taste (carefully, it's hot) and add salt and pepper to taste.
- It's now ready to serve, or to package up for another day!
Additional steps to cook immediately with fresh gnochi or pasta
- Fresh gnocchi and fresh pasta should be quickly boiled up in a separate pan with a pinch of salt.
- Drain then either add to the ragu pot and mix, or serve separately and top the carb with the ragu.
- Don't forget a sprinkling of cheese and chilli flakes!