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!

 

Vegan Chili

I like vegetarian cooking, but have long had a problem with vegetarian chili, and in particular the texture. Without overcooking the beans and vegetables it’s always seemed like a spicy vegetable and bean soup. A friend suggested blending it a bit with a stick blender. I loved it!

Serves 4 hungry people, or 6 people whose appetites are smaller

Ingredients

  • Oil (I used sunflower oil, but olive oil is good too.)
  • 1 onion (I used a red onion, but a brown onion would be just as good)
  • 1 red capsicum
  • 2 carrots (on the larger size, but not the tree-trunk sized ones)
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic (or three big dollops of already-crushed garlic from a jar)
  • About a heaped pudding spoonful of ground cayenne pepper (be bold; trust me)
  • Ground cumin, more than a teaspoon, less than a tablespoon
  • Ground smoked paprika, about the same amount as the cumin
  • 1 teaspoon mixed Italian herbs (I know, it sounds ridic, but it works)
  • A good heaped tablespoon of cocoa powder (NOT drinking chocolate)
  • 2 400 g cans of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 400 g cans of beans (I used Woolworths Mexican Beans mix, which is a mix of kidney beans, pinto beans, and black beans but you can use any beans you like)
  • 1 400 g can of sweetcorn kernels (or you can use frozen if you have some in the freezer)
  • 400 ml vegetable stock (I used stock powder and an empty tomato can full of hot water)
  • A few drops of Tabasco sauce (enough to put the willies up you a bit, but not so much you’re genuinely afraid)
  • Splash of white wine vinegar

Note: try to get the “no added salt” version of the canned stuff; it’ll taste better.

Method

Chop up the capsicum, carrots and celery and dice the onion. Warm the oil in a big saucepan or pot or casserole or something (I used the 3 litre Ikea 365+ pot, which was a bit snug, and I reckon the 5-litre one would have been better) and toss in the chopped vegetables. Keep the heat low and turn them over in the oil before putting a lid on. Stir them every now and then and after about fifteen minutes they should be tender. If not, leave them a bit longer, but you don’t want them mushy; just tender.

Now turn up the heat and put in the garlic, the spices and the herbs stirring to combine, and then add the cocoa powder. Stir that in too: it will combine with the oil and vegetable juices and go lovely and glossy – that’s when it’s time to add the tomatoes, drained beans, and drained corn, as well as the stock (or water and stock powder). Use the stock too rinse out the tomato cans. Stir it all together and bring it up to a simmer.

Once it’s simmering, turn the heat down so it’s simmering gently and let it cook for about half an hour, stirring occasionally and making sure nothing’s sticking to the bottom.

After half an hour add salt and pepper to taste (if you add salt before you cook the beans they’ll end up tasting of nothing – that’s also why I recommending using cans with no added salt).

Now take it off the heat and leave it to cool down for a couple of minutes. It won’t get cold. Use a stick blender to give it a bit of a whizz – just a couple of pulses, but don’t go crazy: you’re not making soup. If you don’t have a stick blender (and honestly, if you don’t you really should get one, and a decent one – the best you can afford) you can put a couple of ladlefuls into an ordinary blender and whizzy whizzy before adding it back to the pot (and if you don’t have any kind of blender you could put a couple of ladlefuls through a mouli, or go at it with a potato masher, but I really do recommend doing something to get the contrasting textures).

Finally stir in a splash of white wine vinegar, check the seasoning and serve! I put some slices of avocado on top and it was delicious. I often put broken tortilla chips on chili too, and, while I don’t really like it, a lot of people put corriander leaves on the top. A dollop of sour cream and that grated Monterrey Jack cheese is nice if you’re not concerned about it not being vegan

Pea & garlic soup

I make this soup from time to time because it’s really quick and easy to make (it takes ten minutes!), it’s super cheap, and – most importantly – it’s delicious. I think it’s a perfect weekend lunch for one.

Every ingredient – except for the peas – is optional, and I never go out and buy anything specifically to make this, so it’s very much a storecupboard recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp vegetable stock powder (optional)
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar

Put the peas and the garlic in a small saucepan with the stock powder; cover with boiling water from the kettle so the peas are just covered. Simmer for 7-8 minutes before blending in a blender with a slug of olive oil and a decent drizzling of balsamic vinegar. Season well with salt and pepper, then eat it immediately.

(Serves one)

Chickpea & mushroom spiced stew

I threw this together last night because I was looking for something super-cheap, nutritious, and very tasty for dinner. It was successful on all counts: easy to make and it cost about $4 (AUD) to make. Aside from the onion, everything came out of cans or packets too, which makes it a perfect last-minute thing, and you could easily make it on a camping trip. Vegan & vegetarian friendly.

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Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 small onion, sliced into half moons
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 400 g can chickpeas
  • 1 400 g can whole champignons, drained
  • 2 400 g cans chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup red lentils
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp hot Madras curry powder
  • 1 tbsp canola oil or similar

Method

  • Over a medium heat soften the onion and garlic in the oil with a good pinch of salt for around ten minutes.
  • Turn the heat to high, add the curry powder and the spices, turning them over in the onion for about a minute until they become fragrant.
  • Pour in the tomatoes, and about a can’s worth of water, using it to rinse out the cans before adding.
  • Bring to the boil, then add the drained champignons, and the chickpeas with their brine
  • Turn the heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes
  • Turn up the heat to medium-high add the lentils, simmering more robustly for a further 15-20 minutes until the sauce has thickened and the lentils have gone mushy. Scrape the bottom from time to time to ensure the lentils do not stick.

Serve with rice.