Bad versions of “ragu” are overly sweet, dried-herb-infused red sauces, while good versions require hours of slow simmering.
We wanted a mushroom ragu that combined the naturally hearty texture of fresh mushrooms with the concentrated flavor of dried ones-and that could be on the table in about 30 minutes.
To make up for the lean nature of mushrooms, we rendered pancetta and then used the fat to sauté the rest of the ingredients. We employed portobello mushrooms to give the sauce bulk, making sure to remove their gills prior to cooking to keep the sauce from turning muddy. Then we chopped the portobellos into bite-size pieces that would blend into the sauce yet maintain noticeable presence.
For concentrated flavor, we soaked and minced smoky porcini mushrooms, adding them to the skillet along with the rendered pancetta, portobellos, sliced garlic, and strained broth that we used to hydrate the dried mushrooms. After the mushrooms started to brown, we included tomato paste and fresh tomatoes that we’d crushed by hand, which tasters liked better than any other tomato product. Finally, fresh rosemary and red pepper flakes finished the dish with brightness and heat.