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Author Notes: Lean ground bison is probably the last thing most people would associate with a ragu. But when cooked gently, for several hours, with a fragrant, heady base of herb-roasted vegetables and mixed mushrooms, and a rich mushroom-infused broth, it more than holds its own. This recipe is something of a project, but don't be intimidated by either the length of the ingredients list or the number of steps involved--the recipe can be broken into discrete parts, which I've attempted to do here. So while there is still an order of operations to assemble the completed dish, the individual components can, for the most part, be prepared independent of each other, over the course of several days, even.
Credit where credit is due: I cribbed the mushroom-infused oil component from wssmom's ingenious "Mushroom Saute with Greens, Pancetta, and Wild Mushroom-Infused Olive Oil," because when I saw that recipe, I immediately realized it contained this recipe's missing step. That being said, you can skip that part if you want--it's a lot of work to obtain the 1/4 cup this recipe calls for (although you will have plenty left over for future use). If that's the case, just rinse, dry, chop, and set the porcini aside til ready to use, and substitute regular olive oil where the recipe calls for the mushroom-infused. The recipe also works fine if you skip roasting the mushrooms and veggies, and just saute them with the herbs and spices instead, although in that case I think you'd be sacrificing some depth of flavor. (I'd also sub regular--i.e, not roasted--canned tomatoes if you're going the non-roasting route.) —Bogre
Makes ~ 2 quarts
For the porcini powder, mushroom broth, roasted veggies, and mushroom-infused oil:
- 1 1/2 ounces dried wild mushrooms, preferably porcini, divided
- 1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
- 8 ounces (each) button and cremini mushrooms
- 6 ounces portobello mushrooms
- 3 ounces shiitake or mixed wild mushrooms
- 2 small-medium leeks, white and light-green parts only, well-washed
- 1 large sweet onion, peeled
- 2 or 3 celery stalks, with leaves if possible
- 2 or 3 carrots, peeled, with tops if possible
- 1 fennel bulb, cored, outer layer removed if tough
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled, any green shoots removed
- 1/2 teaspoon (each) dried thyme, marjoram, ground fennel seed, and ground celery seed
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 1/2 cups olive oil, plus extra for roasting
- parmigiano-reggiano heel (2 x 2 or so)
- Heat oven to 400 F. Grind 1/2 oz dried mushrooms to a fine powder in a spice grinder or food processor. Measure out and set aside 1 tbsp and store the rest for another use. Set the remaining ounce of dried mushrooms in a saucepan or a bowl. In another saucepan, bring chicken broth just to a boil, then remove from heat. Pour over the mushrooms, cover, and let steep while you attend to the veggies.
- Remove and reserve mushroom stems. If your celery stalks have leaves and your carrots have tops, separate and reserve about a 1/4 cup's worth of each, finely chopped. Also reserve your vegetable detritus--peelings, root ends, etc. Chop up all your mushrooms and veggies--except the garlic--so that they are roughly the same size as the whole cloves. (How many celery stalks and carrots you'll need depends on the size of your onion--use as many as required to obtain a roughly 2:1:1 onion:celery:carrot ratio.) Put everything in a large bowl and toss with the herbs, spices, salt, pepper, and about a 1/4 cup of olive oil. Spread in a large (at least 9 x 13) dish, and roast 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally to redistribute.
- Meanwhile, check on those dried mushrooms you've been steeping while prepping your veggies. When they are sufficiently rehydrated, remove them from the broth with a slotted spoon. Rinse, then squeeze out excess moisture. Set aside to dry. Now take your reserved mushroom stems and other vegetable trimmings and chuck them in your now-mushroomy chicken broth, along with the parmigiano heel. Bring to the barest simmer, cover, and let it slow-jam on the back burner for the time being. (Strain before using, and hold on to the parmigiano heel, too. You'll use it again in a bit.)
- When the mushrooms and vegetables are done roasting, remove from the oven and let cool. Drop the oven temperature down to 350 F. Put your rehydrated porcini in a small baking dish or ramekin and pour the 1 1/2 cups olive oil over. Roast in the oven 20-30 minutes, or until it smells like awesome. Have a clean, dry container at the ready--like an empty bottle with a stopper, say--and fill it with your now-mushroom-infused oil. Roughly chop the roasted porcini and set aside.
- Pulse your now-cooled roasted mushrooms and vegetables in batches in a food processor until very finely chopped. (If the consistency gets a little pasty in the process, that's ok--it'll help give body to the ragu, like pureeing half the lentils in a lentil soup.) Set the mixture aside until ready to use.
For the finished ragu:
- 1/4 cup mushroom-infused olive oil (see above; or substitute plain olive oil), plus extra for drizzling
- 4 ounces pancetta, small dice
- 1 pound ground bison or buffalo meat
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon porcini or other wild mushroom powder (see above)
- 1/4 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped
- reserved celery leaves and carrot tops, if using
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 15 ounces can roasted tomatoes (diced or crushed)
- chopped fresh tarragon, for garnish
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
- Place the pancetta in a large skillet or saute pan with 1/4 cup of your mushroom-infused olive oil. (Or regular olive oil, if you're skipping the infusing step.) Turn the heat to medium-low and let the pancetta start to render. Once it gets golden, raise the heat, add the bison, and brown, using a heavy wooden spoon to break up any large chunks.
- Lower the heat to medium, clear a spot in the center of the pan, add the tomato paste, and let it take on some color as well, stirring to prevent scorching. Add the reserved porcini, the porcini powder, the roasted mushroom-vegetable mixture, the parsley, and the celery leaves and carrot tops, if using. Let that cook together for a few minutes, then raise the heat to high and add the wine, stirring to scrape up all the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. When the wine has almost all evaporated, stir in the tomatoes and 2 cups of the reserved mushroom-chicken broth, along with the parmigiano heel, then bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer, partially covered, for several hours, stirring occasionally and adding more broth if the ragu starts looking thirsty. Keep simmering and adding broth and letting the ragu drink it up until it arrives at a consistency that is best described as "sticky"--not too saucy, not too viscous, but somewhere in between. LIke porn, you'll know it when you see it. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve with something ridged and tubular, like rigatoni, or long and ribbony, like pappardelle. Garnish with tarragon, parmigiano, and a drizzle of mushroom oil.