Jeff Onnen chops mushrooms for his (meaty but meatless) Mushroom ragu. Photo by Linda Onnen

For most home cooks, there is nothing quite as satisfying as creating a meaty ragu or Bolognese. All you need are beef or pork, time and attention, and you have something heavenly. Unless, of course, you have any affinity for mushrooms, in which case this recipe’s interesting twist, bursting with that same rich satisfying flavor, will more than hold its own against the classics.

When I saw the recipe in Food & Wine magazine, its uniqueness struck me as a terrific opportunity to invite over a few close friends for a meal. In the magazine, the ragu is slated as the foundation to a vegetarian lasagna, but I varied things and instead served it family-style over a choice of gluten-free gnocchi or tagliatelle. If the number of second helpings was any indication, not one of my meat-loving friends took exception to the vegetarian dinner.

The recipe scaled beautifully. I doubled it to accommodate the evening and allow for leftovers. Since then it’s quickly became a lunch favorite for me and my wife.

One thing I believe all home cooks will appreciate: The actual preparation time only varied slightly from the estimate given with the recipe. That time estimate with recipes almost always makes me chuckle. In this case it took me a bit over an hour to fully assemble the mise en place.

I altered the recipe by using fresh mushrooms exclusively, which did require more slicing and dicing time. But this also eliminated the extra steps of hydrating the dried porcinis as the original wanted. Depending where you shop, dried porcinis can be very hard to find. If you go with my all-fresh mushrooms approach, you also need to adjust the amount of liquid. I replaced the three cups of soaking water called for in the Food & Wine recipe with two cups of mushroom broth. Both Hannaford and Shaw’s stock it, near the chicken and beef stock. When it comes to chicken and beef, I’m a bit particular about whether I use stock or broth. But with vegetable or mushroom, I use either, depending on what they have on the shelf. The broth usually gives a more robust flavor.

The secret is letting this recipe establish itself over a slightly longer cook time at a medium low heat, more along the lines of a traditional meat-based ragu or Bolognese. There is simply no substitution for time. Using a cast-iron Dutch oven, I spent a cool Saturday afternoon, about 3-4 total hours of prep and cooking time, letting this rather simple mix of ingredients simmer into something shimmering and delicious.


The extra time more than compensated for the less eclectic (and less expensive) variety of mushrooms that are more readily available at the local Shaw’s or Hannaford. In my most recent iteration, I used a balanced mix of baby Bella and shiitake mushrooms. Even without the more esoteric fungi in the original (chanterelles, black trumpet, etc.), the results were delicious.

I’d like to think that all of us who spend time in the kitchen are trying to add a bit of happy into our family’s day — something more than simply ensuring the requisite calories make their way to the kitchen table. Over my 30 years of cooking (with the unfailing support of my wife), this philosophy has progressed to an enthusiasm for doing the same for friends and neighbors. This recipe will, unequivocally, be listed under the “happy” tab in my recipe file.

Vegetarian Mushroom Ragu served over gnocchi. Photo by Linda Onnen


Here is the Food & Wine recipe with my own adjustments, including doubling the amounts to make enough for company and leftovers. 

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

1½ cups finely diced yellow onion


2 garlic cloves, minced

3 teaspoons fine sea salt, divided

1 teaspoon black pepper, divided

3 -4 pounds fresh mushrooms (such as baby Bellas and shiitakes)

1 cup dry white wine

4 cups mushroom stock


1 (3 to 6-inch) Parmesan cheese rind

2 cups finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Gluten-free gnocchi or tagliatelle, prepared according to package directions, for serving

Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-low. Add onion, garlic, 1 teaspoon sea salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add mushrooms, remaining 2 tablespoons butter, and remaining 1 teaspoon sea salt.

Increase heat to medium-high; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add remaining 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, and stir to combine. Add wine; cook, stirring often, until wine is reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add mushroom stock and Parmesan rind.

Gently simmer over medium-low, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are tender and liquid is mostly reduced, 2-3 hours. Cover the pot the first 1½ to 2½ hours and then remove the cover to let the sauce reduce a bit. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Remove from heat; let cool 5 minutes. Remove Parmesan rind. Stir in chopped parsley.

Serve over gnocchi or tagliatelle.

THE COOK: Jeff Onnen, Saco

“I met Linda (Banks), my first and only wife, a South Portland native, in 1988. She was at the beginning of a long and successful career. I was an early adopter of the remote office and the one-minute commute. By extension we were early adopters of sharing the family workload, my share being the kitchen duties. Initially I cooked to keep us alive; pot roast, chicken and frozen french fries were regulars. Children came along — certainly a blessing but also a fairly firm set of culinary guardrails. But today our kitchen is like a second home. Between my Midwest and my wife’s Maine roots, good food surrounds us. My cultural boundaries continue to expand, especially with some enthusiastic guidance from my now 30-year-old children. The regular rotation now runs from Jacque Pepin’s chicken and BBQ braised pork Butt to Djaj M’Qualli and Thai chicken salad. Over time I have worked on choosing recipes for their possibilities, pulling ideas from cookbooks, magazines, social media, cashiers at the local grocery or anyone willing to talk food at our favorite restaurants. I always think about who will be sitting at the table or what I can actually find at our local Shaw’s or Hannaford. Remember the vast majority of recipes, though well vetted, are there for our interpretation depending on who is pulling up a chair for dinner. And when all else fails, I just add lemon zest.”

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