In a family with two working parents and a rambunctious two-year-old, I only have a few priorities when it comes to weeknight cooking. I need something relatively simple, something relatively nutritious and something relatively delicious. All three are probably a step down from how things were in the past, but I’m OK with that.
How simple? I’d really like it if my knife prep was the most time-consuming aspect of the meal. We’ve been doing a better job with nutrition by cutting out a bit of meat from our diet and focusing on more vegetables. And I don’t think it’s too much to ask that my pasta sauce taste better than Prego. So when I thought about how I could bring some of the slow-cooked goodness of bolognese to a Tuesday night, I decided to swap out the meat for mushrooms and see how I can amp up the flavor a bit.
The keys were to get a good caramelization using vegetables that didn’t take too long to break down (mushrooms, shallots, garlic), liberal use of tomato paste and a good dash of Worcestershire sauce for some sweetness and anchovy flavor. The result was a richly flavorful sauce that nicely coated the noodles but didn’t weigh it down.
Your diners might not accuse you of spending all day in the kitchen, but if I can get something this good and still have time to watch some Pajanimals with my kid, I’ll take it.
Mock Bolognese (Mushroom Ragù)
3/4lb crimini mushrooms, finely chopped
3 large shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/3c dry white wine, vermouth or sherry
1tbsp tomato paste
1/2tsp Worcestershire sauce
3/4c chicken stock
Salt and pepper
Heat oil and butter over medium-high in a large skillet. Add mushrooms, shallots, thyme and garlic, season with salt and pepper and cook until browned and softened, about ten minutes. Add Worcestershire sauce and tomato paste, stir and allow to lightly caramelize for two minuts. Deglaze with wine and scrape pan to loosen fond.
Add chicken stock and bring up to a simmer. Lower heat, add milk and cook for ten minutes. Add pasta to pan (along with some of the pasta water), stir to coat with sauce and adjust seasoning. Remove from heat and serve with grated cheese (optional, but why the hell not?)
Makes enough for one pound of pasta.