hearty italian braised mushrooms

even though i grew up watching the lady and the tramp get romantic over a big plate of spaghetti, i have thoroughly resisted assenting to the popular association of american-italian cuisine with fine dining. pasta, red sauce and a sommelier don’t trigger thoughts of a sexy time for me. this is not to say that i dislike carb- and garlic-heavy candlelit dinners, i think i just have a hard time associating romance with particular regional cuisines. certainly, dining is a foundational part of courtship, but the romance is only as good as the people involved, not the food served. nachos, pizza, or even raw ramen can be suitable aphrodisiacs if the two dining together both have the same romantic expectations for the evening.

however, this valentine’s day called for some heavy, rich tomato sauce over some thick polenta, served with a salad and roasted brussels sprouts and turnips. the cold weather prevailed over my prejudice and i slow-cooked cremini mushrooms for two hours with good canned roma tomatoes and a healthy glug of olive oil. as the temperature outside plummeted, K and i opened a bottle of cheap Primitivo and sat near the oven, inhaling the gorgeous aroma of roasting garlic and snacking on white bean dip. it was romantic as well as restorative after a long week.

simmery goodness

as a side i roasted brussels sprouts and cubed turnips with olive oil, preserved lemon and capers which stood firmly against the acidity of the tomatoes and the salad dressing, reinforcing the creamy polenta base and balancing the dish without making the experience too heavy.

it is, of course, too late for you to follow me by example and make your own braised mushrooms on this valentine’s day, but perhaps it is a recipe that you will keep in mind when your significant other is weary from an exhausting week and it is just too cold outside.

italian braised mushrooms
inspired by smittenkitchen

2 28 oz cans whole roma tomatoes, good quality
1/4 c white onion, chopped
2 tbl olive oil, good quality
24 oz cremini mushrooms, carefully de-stemmed (freeze the stems to make broth later)
8 tbl vegan butter, room temperature
1 tbl olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pinch salt
1 grind pepper
1 big pinch each dried basil and oregano
1 head garlic, cloves separated but left unpeeled

– glug the oil in the bottom of a heavy casserole dish or dutch oven and sprinkle in the onions
– use your hands or kitchen shears to smush/chop the tomatoes into smaller chunks and pour them and their juices over the onions
– mix together the butter, oil, minced garlic, salt, pepper and herbs with a fork until combined
– rinse and carefully dry the mushrooms and pack them with the garlic-herb butter, making sure each mushroom gets a bit of butter
– arrange the packed mushrooms on top of the tomatoes, buttercup side up, and sprinkle the whole, unpeeled garlic cloves over top
– bake at 350F for at least 2 hours or until you get so hungry that you can’t bear waiting any longer
– carefully remove the garlic cloves and set aside to cool a bit, then squeeze the roasted garlic from the peel back into the mushrooms
– give it a stir, adjust salt and pepper and serve over polenta, rice, pasta or alongside some crusty bread

basic polenta

1 cup dry polenta
4 cups broth or water
1 tbl butter or olive oil
1 tsp salt
splash of plain non-dairy milk if necessary

– mix together 1 cup of water with the polenta in a bowl
– bring 3 cups of the water to a vigorous boil, no less
– once boiling, whisk in the moistened polenta and turn the heat down to a simmer
– simmer, stirring more or less continuously, for 30 minutes
– season with salt and butter or oil
– to reheat, splash in some milk and stir over low heat until heated through


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