Mushroom Ragù (Gombapaprikás)

mushroom ragu

The forest! It's filled with allure, and unusual things that grow almost out of nowhere, like mushrooms. You see patches here and there on trees and stumps, and you wonder whether they're edible or not. I am not a forager, but I do appreciate all that nature provides. And I love my wild mushrooms. Every summer I eagerly await the arrival of chanterelles at the farmers' markets. Those are just one of the kinds of mushrooms you won't find in supermarkets. But I also love combining different varieties of mushrooms in one dish, like this ragù as it's called in Italian, or paprikás as it's referred to in Hungarian.

In Hungarian cuisine you can make a paprikás with nearly anything. The most popular is chicken paprikás, but you'll also find it made with pork, beef, veal, or mushrooms. Mushroom paprikás is likely one of the only vegetarian options you'll find in old timey Hungarian restaurants! So make note! But for my recipe I also take inspiration from the Italian ragù. I use gigli, a frilly pasta shape and I enrich the sauce with heavy cream. For my Hungarian flair, I use paprika powder, which is that seasoning that nearly every Hungarian uses. Paprika adds a nice terracotta hue to the dish, really highlighting the earthiness of the mushrooms in both flavor and color.

mushroom varieties

The secret to a mushroom recipe that everyone will enjoy eating is to clean the mushrooms impeccably. Wild mushrooms are especially notorious for being covered in soil, humus, and even pine needles. As a first course of action, I don't recommend washing mushrooms, because you don't want soggy mushrooms that won't sear properly. I prefer to wipe my mushroom clean with a damp cloth. However, if your forest mushrooms are dirty to the point of frustrating you, give them a quick rinse under running water. Then just make sure to let them air dry on a towel before cooking them. After all mushrooms do get wet in the woods!

I like to use a blend of mushrooms. For this recipe, which you can see in the video below, I use five varieties: white button, shiitake, chanterelle, brown beech, and oyster. I love the interplay in flavors and textures when you use many different mushrooms. But by no means must you use this exact mix. Feel free to use whichever mushrooms you can get your hands on, and that which you like. Enjoy the bounty of mushrooms this summer!

Mushroom Ragù (Gombapaprikás)

1 pound mushrooms in different varieties (weighed after cleaning and trimming)
olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
sea salt
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
12 ounces small-shaped pasta, like campanelle, gigli, or farfalle
freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons paprika powder
8 ounces heavy cream
1 small bunch chives, chopped
1 small bunch parsley, chopped

First, trim and clean the mushrooms. If you're using mushrooms with woody stems, like shiitake, you'll need to remove their stems. With mushrooms like cremini or button, you may need to trim half of the stem. Using a moistened paper towel or clean kitchen towel, gently rub the mushroom caps to remove any soil. Use a small paring knife to pick out any soil or sand from under the gills. As a last resort, you can quickly rinse very dirty wild mushrooms under a running tap. Be sure to lay them on a kitchen towel afterward and let them air dry before cooking them.

Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Liberally season with salt. Once the water is at a rolling boil, add the pasta, and stir. Cook until the pasta is al dente, about 1 to 2 minutes short of package directions.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, and add a drizzling of olive oil once the pan is hot. Add the onion and sauté until golden in color, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add a pinch of salt to help them break down. Add the garlic, and continue sautéing until the onions are translucent and the garlic has released its aroma, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Begin adding the mushrooms to the pan, a little at a time, tossing them with the onion and garlic. Raise the heat on the skillet once the mushrooms have started to sweat. Keep tossing and turning the mushrooms until they've become soft, and have released most of their liquid, about 5 to 8 minutes. Season them with salt only after they've sweated. Season with pepper and paprika and give it a stir. Add a ladle or two of pasta water to the skillet to help release any brown bits, and to start forming the sauce.

Lower the heat under the skillet to medium. Pour the heavy cream into the skillet, stirring to coat all the ingredients. Let the cream reduce slightly. If the sauce starts to get too thick too quick, add another ladle of pasta water.

Using a slotted colander, scoop the pasta into the skillet and toss to coat with the mushroom sauce. Let the pasta cook in the sauce for an additional 2 minutes. Turn off the heat, and add the chives and parsley. Toss together. Check the seasoning. Serve immediately. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.


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