About 6 cups of sauce, enough to dress 3 pounds of pasta
This is a great vegetarian sauce, very complex and satisfying, It’s excellent for pasta, baked in a lasagna or polenta pasticciata, cooked into risotto—or as a condiment for grilled steak or fish. The mushrooms you can buy at the supermarket will make a fine sauce—if you have fresh wild mushrooms it will be even better. In either case, dried porcini provide key elements for this sauce (and many others).
- 2-1/2 pounds small firm fresh mixed mushrooms
- 1/2 ounce dried porcini (about 1/2 cup loosely packed pieces), soaked in 1-1/2 cups warm water for a few minutes until reconstituted
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary, a tender stem about 4-inches long
- 1 sprig of fresh sage with 4 big leaves (or more smaller ones)
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup finely chopped shallots
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt plus more to taste
- 1/3 cup tomato paste
- 1 cup dry Marsala
- 4 cups hot turkey stock or vegetable stock
- Freshly ground black pepper
Squeeze out the soaked porcini and slice them into pieces about 1/4-inch wide. Strain the soaking water and keep it in a warm spot. Clean, trim and slice the fresh mushrooms into moderately thin slices, barely 1/4-inch wide. Tie the sprigs of fresh herbs together with a piece of kitchen twine, or enclose the leaves in cheesecloth.
Put the oil and butter in a large skillet and place over medium heat. When the butter melts, dump in the onions and shallots and half the salt and stir well. Heat to a slow sizzle and cook for 6 minutes or more—stirring often—until the onions are soft, wilted and shiny, without any browning.
Pour all the mushrooms into the pan, and spread them out . Sprinkle in the remaining salt, drop in the herb bouquet, then toss briefly and cover the pan. Raise the heat a bit and cook covered for about 3 minutes, shaking the pan now and then to sweat the mushrooms.
Uncover and continue to cook over fairly high heat, stirring frequently, as the mushrooms shrink and the liquid evaporates, 5 minutes or more. When the pan is dry and the mushrooms begin to brown, clear a hot spot, drop in the tomato paste and toast it, stirring, for a minute or so, then stir it into the mushrooms.
When everything is browning again and just starting to stick, pour the Marsala all over. Stir constantly as the wine thickens and evaporates. When the mushrooms again start sticking to the bottom, pour in the warm mushroom water and 2 cups of the hot stock. Bring to an active boil, stirring up any caramelization on the pan bottom. Lower the heat to keep the sauce bubbling gently all over the surface and cover the pan. Cook for about 20 minutes, occasionally stirring and adding stock to keep the mushrooms nearly covered in liquid; expect to add 1/2 cup or so at a time. Adjust the heat to keep the simmer high and steady but not too rapid.
Uncover the pan and cook for another 20 minutes, maintaining the simmer and adding stock as needed. When the mushrooms are thoroughly tender and the sauce has just thickened, remove and discard the herb bouquet. Taste and add salt, if needed, and freshly ground black pepper to taste.