Linguine with Wild Mushroom, Tomato and Eggplant Sauce

Recipe and photo by Tami Ganeles Weiser Yield:  4 servings
Prep Time:  30 minutes Cook Time:  1 hour 15 minutes

Linguine with Wild Mushroom, Tomato and Eggplant Sauce

This luscious vegan linguine is easy to halve, easy to double for a crowd, and easy to love. It takes a while to cook but it’s mostly hands off—and the sauce tastes better the second day. I served it over a frittata and grilled fish to great accolades. Eggplant prep is polarizing: some cooks salt before cooking and rinse; others eschew this step. Some even soak it in milk to reduce any natural bitterness. Eggplants have been cultivated to be less bitter over time. Notwithstanding that, I am a salter. I love that it softens and starts the “cooking,” or denaturing process, which helps prevents undercooked eggplant. If you are a salter, too, allow an hour to salt the eggplant before you begin cooking. See Kitchen Tips for a full discussion of the eggplant conundrum.

Ingredients

¼ cup olive oil

1 pound grape or cherry sized tomatoes, yellow and green mixed, cut in half (about 2 cups)

1 large eggplant (about 1 pound), peeled, cut into ½-inch dice, and salted (see Kitchen Tips)

2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

1 shallot, peeled and minced

2 cloves garlic, peeled, split in half and minced, green center discarded

1 can (6-ounces) San Marzano tomato paste

1 cup dry, full-bodied red wine

1½ pounds assorted wild mushrooms, such as cremini, porcini, chanterelles and oyster, sliced thinly (about 5 cups)

2 bay leaves

4 sprigs fresh thyme

6 sprigs fresh oregano

½ teaspoon mustard powder

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons mushroom powder, preferably Angelina Gourmet’s Porcini Powder

1 teaspoon nutritional yeast (see Kitchen Tips)

1 cup Mushroom Stock, Roasted Vegetable Stock, or low-sodium store-bought mushroom or vegetable stock

1 package (16 ounces) linguine (regular, protein-plus or gluten-free, as you wish!)

Instructions

  1. Roast the tomatoes and eggplant: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Drizzle 3 tablespoons of the oil over a rimmed baking sheet, scatter the tomatoes and eggplant cubes and 1 teaspoon salt and mix. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes until the tomatoes completely soft. Set aside.
  2. Make the sauce: In a deep saucepan, heat the remaining olive oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes, until translucent and brown at the the edges. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste and stir for about 1 minute to toast the paste completely incorporate the garlic and shallots into it. Carefully add the red wine (look away from the pot so you don’t get a blast of alcohol in your face). Cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes, until it is bubbling and boiling hard and the wine is thoroughly incorporated into the tomato completely.
  3. Add the mushrooms and cook over high heat, stirring to coat the mushrooms. Add the roasted vegetables, scraping all the oil and any bits of tomato and eggplant that have stuck to the baking sheet into the pot (these bits are full of caramelized flavor!) Reduce the heat to a simmer.
  4. Place the bay leaves, thyme sprigs, and oregano sprigs on a piece of cheesecloth, roll it so that the herbs are completely sealed inside and tie with kitchen twine. Add the herb bundle (or bouquet garni, as we called it in culinary school and as it’s known in pro kitchens) to the pot and stir. Add the mustard powder, black pepper, mushroom powder, and yeast and stir well. Cover and reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the stock and stir well.  Cook for 35 to 40 minutes, or until all the mushrooms are completely soft and cooked through.
  5. About 10 minutes before the sauce is done, cook the pasta according to the package instructions in salted water (salty like the ocean). Drain when it is done, reserving about ½ cup of pasta cooking water to thin out the sauce if necessary.
  6. Remove the herb bundle from the sauce and pour the sauce to a large serving bowl. Add the drained pasta and toss. If the sauce is too thick, or if you like the pasta just lightly coated, add the reserved pasta water a few tablespoons at a time until you reach the desired consistency. Serve hot.

Kitchen Tips

  1. This sauce can be made up to 3 days before serving and refrigerated, covered. Reheated at a simmer. Like many stews, it tastes better the second day. The pasta, however, should  be cooked just before serving.
  2. If you are not vegan and you would like to add cheese to this dish, it’s quite simple. Omit the yeast and, just before serving, sprinkle 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan on each serving.  If you are not vegetarian, this is dish is great with 2 anchovy fillets mashed and added with the tomato paste. And don’t worry that it will taste fishy; your family will never know what the sauce gives it that extra depth. Since my Dad can’t have anchovies anymore, I use two sardines fillets, skinless, packed in oil and he loves it.
  3.  Eggplant can be bitter, so many cooks take preliminary steps to reduce the bitterness. One way is the soak it in milk (if you are not vegan, not allergic and are making this as a dairy meal). Another way is to salt the eggplant first. Salting is done to draw the liquid out of many vegetables (think cucumbers in cucumber salad) and with eggplant, it has it added benefit of drawing out the bitter flavor compounds along with the vegetable’s natural liquids. It also renders the eggplant less likely to soak up too much oil. Peel and cut the eggplant, salt liberally and let stand in a colander set over a bowl for about 1 hour. At the end of the hour, you will see beads of “sweat” on eggplant. Rinse very well under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels, pressing gently to remove as much water as possible. Continue with your recipe.

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