David Tanis' Wild Mushroom Ragout with Ziti

Cookbook Review & Recipe from Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys

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David Tanis, chef at Alice Waters' Chez Panisse, begins his second book, Heart of the Artichoke, by saying that he includes three kinds of cooking in the book: small, medium, and large. We talked a little about the "small" cooking in this post on Tanis' own kitchen rituals. But there is more to the book than these small cooking moments. There are seasonal menus for 4 to 6, and then there are menus for right now: "Simple Feasts for a Long Table" — festive menus that are still simple. The interplay between the three kinds of cooking is part of what makes this book so wonderful and worth owning. The other part, of course, is just how delicious the food is.
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David calls himself a restaurant chef that prefers to cook at home. Chez Panisse allows him to bring the best of home cooking to the tables there in the six months a year he cooks at the restaurant. The rest of the year he, presumably, is cooking up the dishes in this book (all beautifully and simply photographed by Christopher Hirsheimer of Canal House Cooking).

These dishes, like the wild mushroom ragout below, show a care and respect for ingredients, coaxing great flavor out of simple things in succinct recipes and ingredient lists. They also show a focus on feeding other people, but these are dinner party menus designed to let the cook enjoy the party, too.

David Tanis clearly loves platters; food in this book is served family-style, and he believes in full freedom to be informal — no need to be overly fussy, even for big parties. I love this quote on this topic: "I find that for many people the leap from a small dinner party to a large one — for, say, 12 or 20 — is pretty terrifying, but it needn't be. It may be a big table, but it doesn't have to be a big deal."

Hurray — so true! Like Tanis' previous book, he arranges most of the book in short themed menus, which range through the seasons and all have inspiring, lovely names: Spices for a Summer Night. Dinner on the Italian Side. Dead-of-Winter Dinner from the Supermarket.

Each menu is full of recipes that are creative and interesting, yet simple enough to make without a lot of fuss. One menu I am particularly excited to make and explore is "The Flavor of Smoke," with recipes for simmered chicken legs that give you Scallion Broth, and a subsequent Tea-Smoked Chicken Salad. For dessert, Sesame Peanut Candy — little squares of meringue and nougat. A perfect blend of new things to try, with comforting favorite flavors in the mix.

This book encourages exploration, while still offering up comfort food of the very best sort. And if you are one of those people who wants to explore in the kitchen and invite others over to do that with you, joining you for dinner parties large and small this season, please just take our collective word for it and buy this book.

Find the book: Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys by David Tanis. Published by Artisan (November 1, 2010). $23.10 at Amazon.

More about David Tanis:
Kitchen Rituals from David Tanis
Book Review: A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes - A review of David's first book.

Wild Mushroom Ragout with Ziti

Although many vegetarians I know are understandably tired of pasta, this deeply satisfying autumnal dish isn’t so much a pasta as a rich mushroom stew that would be just as wonderful with warm polenta, steamed rice, or other grains.

For the mushroom ragout
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
Salt and pepper
2 pounds wild or cultivated mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
3 garlic cloves, smashed to a paste with a little salt
1 teaspoon finely chopped thyme
2 teaspoons finely chopped sage
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 cups Porcini Mushroom Broth (recipe follows), hot, or as needed

1 pound long ziti
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
2 garlic cloves
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

To prepare the ragout, in a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring well, until it begins to brown. Lower the heat to medium, season the onions with salt and pepper, and continue stirring until nicely caramelized, about 5 minutes. Remove the onion to a small bowl. Return the pan to the heat, add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, and turn the heat to high. Add the mushrooms, stirring well to coat with oil. Keep the heat high and sauté the mushrooms until they brown lightly. If juices accumulate in the pan, pour them off and reserve.

Season the mushrooms with salt and pepper, add the garlic, thyme, sage, and pepper flakes, and stir well. Reduce the heat to medium, add the caramelized onion and the tomato paste, and stir well to coat the mushrooms and to dry the mixture slightly. Cook for another 2 minutes, stirring.

Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir it in. Ladle in 1 cup of the hot mushroom broth, stirring well as the mixture thickens. Add another cup of hot broth and let the ragout cook for another 5 minutes. If it’s too thin, cook it a bit longer; if too thick, add a bit more broth. Taste for seasoning. (The ragout can be made a few hours ahead and reheated.)

To cook the pasta, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Break the ziti into 6-inch lengths (or use cut ziti). Boil the pasta for about 10 minutes, or until on the firm side of al dente.

When the noodles are almost cooked, warm the olive oil or butter in a large wide skillet. Put in the garlic and stir; don’t let it brown. Add salt and pepper and turn off the heat.

Drain the pasta, add to the skillet along with the parsley, and mix well. Transfer the pasta to a warm serving bowl. Put the hot mushroom ragout in another serving bowl, and bring them both to the table.

Porcini Mushroom Broth

Put 3 cups water in a saucepan and add a bay leaf, a few slices of dried porcini mushrooms or 2 teaspoons dry porcini powder (see below), half a small onion, 1 small celery stalk, and a small carrot, peeled and chopped. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook for 20 to 30 minutes; strain.

{Variation} Dry Porcini Powder
Porcini powder is available at specialty shops, but it’s easy to make your own, to add intensity to the mushroom ragout or many other sauces or dishes. Dried porcini can sometimes be sandy. So, to get rid of any grit, soak a handful of them briefly in warm water, then blot them very well in a towel, put them on a baking sheet, and let them air-dry completely. When the mushrooms are dry, grind them up in a spice grinder and keep the powder in a jar in the freezer.

(Excerpted from HEART OF THE ARTICHOKE by David Tanis (Artisan Books) Copyright 2010. Christopher Hirsheimer, photographer.)

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