Spaghetti with a mushroom ragu for two

This is a delightful little dish that’s simple and fairly quick to make. You can use fresh mushrooms, but I suggest using dried because they are cheaper, have much more flavor, and you can use the soaking liquor for the stock. If you do choose to use fresh mushrooms, then use vegetable stock. Chicken or chicken-style vegan stock will overpower the flavor of the mushrooms.

For the mushrooms, I used a mixture of shiitake, button, cep, and black fungus, but I don’t think the black fungus worked all that well (except for giving the dish a dramatic look!). I think dried mushrooms are excellent, but if you do use fresh, you’ll need about five times the weight. If you use nice mushrooms, that’ll be expensive, but you might be rich so you do you. Either way, don’t bother using just baby button mushrooms, and certainly don’t use oyster mushrooms because your sauce will taste of nothing.

It serves two people. Or one person twice.

Ingredients

  • 50 g dried mushrooms
  • Olive oil (about twice as much as you think you’ll need, but not so much that you’ll be deep frying)
  • 1 onion (or a couple of banana shallots would be nice)
  • 2 fat cloves of garlic, minced (or two big dollops out of a jar)
  • 60 ml or so of vermouth, or whatever you have – sherry, Madeira, Marsala etc.
  • 2 tbsp thickened cream (double cream in the UK, heavy cream in America)
  • Some basil, parsley, and parmesan cheese (as much as you like of each)
  • 250 g spaghetti (I use Barilla no. 7 spaghettoni)

Method

Begin by soaking the mushrooms in warm water for about half an hour (you’re going to ask me how much water to use: use enough to cover them in whatever vessel you’re soaking them in, and in any case at least 300 ml to 400 ml, but not too much, otherwise the lovely stock will be too weak.) While they are soaking, chop the onion and have a glass of wine. Add the chopped onion and garlic along with a good pinch of salt to the oil in a large frying pan, but don’t put it on the heat yet.

Once the mushrooms are rehydrated, drain and chop them, reserving 250 ml of the soaking liquor.

Now put the frying pan on a medium-ish heat and soften the onion, not until it’s brown, but until it’s really soft; it’ll take five to ten minutes, depending on the heat, but don’t be tempted to turn the heat up to rush it.

Next, add the mushrooms to the pan, and grind in some black pepper. If it’s a special occasion, you could grate in some nutmeg too – mushrooms love nutmeg. Cook the mushrooms over a fairly high heat until they are tender and any liquid that went in with them has evaporated.

Now pour in the vermouth (or whatever you are using) and allow that to evaporate too (it’s flavor we’re after here; we’re not making soup). Then pour in the reserved soaking liquor (or if you used fresh mushrooms, add 250 ml vegetable stock or something with an inoffensive amount of flavor). Turn the heat down to low, and simmer for about half an hour – until the liquid has reduced by about half and it’s thickened up.

While all that’s going on, bring a large pot of water to the boil and add a frightening amount of salt (like, I grab a handful of rock salt and throw it in), add the pasta and cook it for one minute less than it tells you on the packet, unless you’ve got dentures you’re worried about, then add some extra time so it all goes soft. Time it all so that the pasta will not be sitting around waiting for the sauce.

After the sauce has been cooking for half an hour and has reduced sufficiently, add the herbs and the cream (you can use more or less cream, depending on your taste, but don’t drown out the taste of the mushrooms, and remember you’re not making soup!). Bring it back up to a simmer (it shouldn’t curdle, unless you’ve used reduced fat cream for some reason, though I can’t imagine why you would). Then immediately drain the pasta and add it to the pan, mix it all together thoroughly, then serve onto warmed plates. Sprinkle over some grated parmesan cheese (or shaved if you’re trying to impress).

Enjoy!

 

Microwave Cookery

I rather like cooking using the microwave. I know many people baulk at the idea of using a microwave for anything other than reheating leftovers, but there are some pretty great things you can do with a microwave.

Chicken

You can roast a small-to-medium chicken in a microwave in about half an hour, and it will be delicious and the meat will stay moist and juicy – no fear of a dry chook, which can happen if you overcook a chicken in the oven. Remember to shield the breast bone and the ends of the legs with foil though.

Eggs

You can buy those microwave egg poachers, which are quite handy, but what the microwave is really good for is making scrambled eggs when you are catering for a lot of people. Just whisk the eggs in a large bowl (and unlike when you’re making scrambled eggs the traditional way, you want to get them really really frothy here) and then microwave on low power, stopping every 30 seconds to whisk again, until they are done.

Cakes and puddings

Yes, you can bake in a microwave! The microwave is quite good for making sponge puddings – the type that has jam or syrup on the top – much quicker than steaming. And a pineapple upside-down cake is a great make in the microwave too. My favorite though is my microwave mug brownies. Ready in a flash, and so easy. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

2 tbsp melted butter
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup flour
¼ tsp baking powder
2 tbsp cocoa powder
¼ cup milk

Method:

Mix all the ingredients together in a mug.
Microwave on high for 1 minute and 15 seconds

Tip: before adding the milk, mix everything else together first. Make sure everything is mixed together very well.