We use mostly cultivated mushrooms and we give them a boost of wild flavor in a couple of ways. The first is to make an intense, flavorful broth with a handful of dried porcini. The other is to actually buy some wild mushrooms. A scant half-pound of chanterelles, even if pricey, won’t break the bank. (It’s optional but so worth it) This robust savory dish tastes big and rich enough that you might believe it contains meat or game, although it has none. This sauce is dark and velvety with a depth the suggests hours long, slow simmering when in fact, it is fairly quick to make. Spooned over pasta or nestled up to a soft mound of polenta, it evokes the comfort of home and the primal in each bite. We served ours on Crispy Polenta which is creamy polenta that’s set in the refrigerator and then sauté to crisp it. Use good quality chocolate such as Lindt or Valrhona.
Serves 2 or 4 smaller main portions
- 1 pound mixed wild and cultivated mushrooms, such as portobellos, chanterelles, shiitake, and cremini mushrooms (choose the ones you enjoy there’s no right or wrong)
- 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
- ½ cup boiling water
- About 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1 teaspoon of thyme, chopped
- ⅔ cup dry red wine
- A scant ⅛ teaspoon each of ground nutmeg, ground cardamom and white pepper
- A pinch or two of ground cloves
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped bittersweet chocolate (70% to 72%)
- Soak porcini in ½ cups boiling water until softened, at least 20 minutes.
- Keeping the different mushrooms separate, clean with a damp paper towel and a pastry brush, then slice ¼ inch thick; discard the stems if they seem tough.
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add about a 2 teaspoons of olive oil more if needed. Add one type of mushroom and sauté, stirring frequently until browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape them into a bowl and set aside. Repeat with each mushroom type, scraping them into the same bowl. If you are not using a nonstick pan, between batches you may dissolve the browned bits from the pan with a little reserved mushroom broth, then scrape the juices into the bowl.
- Remove the pan from the heat to cool slightly, then set over medium-low heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the garlic; sauté until soft but not browned. Return the mushrooms with the thyme and any accumulated juices to the pan, add the wine, spices and salt. Simmer for 2 – 3 minutes to evaporate the alcohol in the wine.
- Add ¼ cup of reserved porcini liquid, cover and simmer for 6 to 10 minutes to cook the mushrooms and release their juices into the sauce. Uncover and cook until the sauce is reduced and slightly syrupy. Stir in the chocolate until it melts and smoothes the sauce. Taste and correct the seasonings, if necessary. Serve over fried or soft polenta or egg noodles.