Marcella Hazan's Rice and Smothered Cabbage Soup
Pichet Ong's Squash Pie

Regina Schrambling's Mushroom Ragout



For the past week, I've been elbow-deep in flour and boiling potatoes and yeast (dried, instant, fresh, you name it), trying like mad to get this potato focaccia recipe figured out for you all. And you know what? I'm totally enjoying it. It's slow-going, yes, but it's fun, too. Plus, Ben seems to enjoy all the doughy, not-salty-enough, sunken-in-the-middle test specimens. Who knows. More on this later.

In the meantime, while we all wait for my oven to finally produce The Right Version of La Focaccia, I need to quickly tell you about this mushroom ragout I made last weekend that, literally, is good enough to eat from the pan with a spoon when no one's looking. (If you want to be a little more dignified, I'd suggest you boil some rice and spoon the ragout over it. While we're at it, you could also eat this over pasta, or pan-fried chicken paillards, over steak, or straight out of the pan.)

It's so simple that I almost feel silly writing about it, but it's so darn delicious that I just have to urge you to make it. You basically saute a bunch of wild mushrooms with a few aromatics, deglaze them with stock and wine, and give the whole dish some body with a nice dollop of creme fraiche. Yeah, yeah - see what I mean? Easy-peasy and deja-vu. Except is it? Have you made this lately? Get to it.

Russ (because of course it's his recipe) Regina (sorry!) calls for wild mushrooms, but after getting slightly worked up about the state of even the standard Portobello caps at my local grocer (seriously, I'm thinking of lodging a formal complaint with the manager there about the piles of rotting vegetables I see on a regular basis - I mean, I don't want to be shrill, but come on. I should take pictures of the place and show them to you - it's appalling.), I marched off to the organic grocer and ended up with plain old champignons de Paris, little cremini (yes, I know they're the same thing), and shiitake mushrooms.

I also used less butter and less creme fraiche than the original recipe because it's January and I'm just not in the mood for gilding lilies. The dish turns out fabulously nevertheless - the mushrooms are each napped in a lovely little cloak of winey, brothy, herb-scented cream without being bogged down with fat, and their woodsy flavor shines right through.

And for those of you who can't get your hands on creme fraiche in the grocery store? Make your own instead of substituting sour cream or whatever else - creme fraiche has its own lovely flavor profile and reacts uniquely with heat, which is why cooking with it is such a pleasure. Plus, making your own is beyond easy. Here's what you do:

Pour 2 tablespoons of buttermilk and 2 cups heavy cream (do not use the ultra-pasteurized, additive-filled kind or this won't work) into a clean glass jar. Screw the lid shut and let stand at room temperature (between 65 and 75 degrees) for 8 to 24 hours, or until thickened. Stir and refrigerate at least 24 hours before using (this helps to continue thickening the cream). It will keep for about 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

Mushroom Ragout
Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds mixed mushrooms (I used white button, little cremini, and shiitake mushrooms)
2 tablespoons butter
2 leeks, white part only, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt, plus more to taste
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup stock (chicken or vegetable)
1/4 cup creme fraiche (plus a little more if desired)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Clean the mushrooms and cut them into chunks of roughly even size.

2. Melt the butter in a large shallow saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks, sprinkle with salt and cook, stirring often, until softened, 5 to 8 minutes.

3. Add the mushrooms and stir to mix well. Add the thyme, bay leaf and cayenne pepper and mix well. Add the wine and cook, stirring, until the liquid is reduced to a glaze.

4. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are tender, about 15 minutes (cooking time will depend on variety and age of mushrooms).

5. Stir in the creme fraiche and heat through. (Add more if you want more liquid.) Taste and add more salt if needed. Season well with pepper and serve.