Killer Porcini Mushroom Tomato Sauce: Satisfying Vegetarian for a Crowd

When you make dinner for nine people in a tiny apartment (or anywhere), it is not always perfect. The lasagna noodles may overcook and turn out a bit floppy, and you may run out of cheese for the topping. The pictures may be blurry and messy. But it’s really just lucky you have enough chairs. And your guests are enjoying meeting each other, and there’s plenty of wine.

While I’m not going to instruct you to recreate this exact lasagna, I wanted to share with you the recipe for the sauce I used. Because it’s killer. It’s earthy and deeply flavored, with the richness and strength of a heavy meat sauce, without any of the meat. Dried porcini mushrooms and their soaking liquid, along with an entire bottle of wine turn regular marinara into dinner-party material. It impressed vegetarians and carnivores alike. And this is not just a lasagna ingredient: this would be great on gnocchi or tagliatelle or piled onto shredded spaghetti squash and/or bitter greens.

Set aside a day to make this giant pot of sauce, and save it in portions in your freezer for a quick meal. It can simmer all day, and your patience will be rewarded.

A few notes on ingredients: I used an inexpensive ($5) Shiraz for this. Be sure to taste a sip to make sure the bottle is good before adding it to your sauce. Because wouldn’t it be sad if the wine ruined it all! Also, I added one jar of pre-made Barilla marinara to the sauce base. I realize this is cheating, but I find it evens out the edges a little, and provides a neutral base for your fresh flavorings.

Killer Porcini Mushroom Tomato Sauce

1 oz porcini mushrooms
2 cups water
2 yellow onions, chopped
1/2 T fennel seeds
2 T tomato paste
6 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
1/2 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 tsp dried basil
1 large portobello mushroom, chopped
salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 bottle dry red wine (I used Shiraz)
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
1 jar (24 oz) prepared marinara sauce (I used Barilla)
1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves

Soak porcini mushrooms in 2 cups boiling water for 30 minutes. Rinse porcini and chop, saving liquid. Pour liquid through a strainer lined with a paper towel to remove dirt and save. Meanwhile, saute onions in a large (at least 6 quart) heavy dutch oven over medium low, stirring often, about 20 minutes until translucent and beginning to color. Add fennel seeds and tomato paste, stir and let caramelize for a minute. Add garlic, rosemary, basil, and portobello mushroom, saute 1 minute more. Add a pinch of salt and several grinds of fresh pepper along with red pepper flakes.

Pour 2 cups of wine into the pan to deglaze, stir and scrape browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until wine evaporates. Add both cans of tomatoes and their liquid along with prepared marinara. Add chopped porcini along with half their liquid. Let simmer (it should be just lightly bubbling) until reduced slightly, about 20 minutes, then add another cup of wine and the remaining porcini liquid. Continue cooking and adding wine a cup at a time until entire bottle has been added. This could take an hour.

Let simmer on very low heat at least 2 more hours and up to six, stirring occasionally. When ready to serve, stir in fresh oregano leaves. Taste for seasoning.

In budget, pasta, sauce, tomatoes, vegetarian

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