Welcome to “‘Noodles Made Me...” a series in which Milk Street’s Hannah Packman cooks her way through our latest cookbook, “Milk Street Noodles.” Throughout this series, she’s become a parsley pesto fan, cracked the code for making perfectly balanced Vietnamese-inspired noodle bowls, and learned to make streamlined gnocchi from instant mashed potato flakes.

It’s Mushroom Week at Milk Street! And I’m celebrating these earthy forest fungi with a recipe that puts the focus on mushrooms. No meat involved. I approached this subject with trepidation, as I’m not one to forgo meat for vegetables. Ever. But, in the spirit of Mushroom Week, I suspended my disbelief. One quick search of the book and I found my winner: Tagliatelle with Mushroom Ragù.

Lesson 4: Mushroom Ragù

Guiding Rule: Mushrooms actually can satisfy an omnivore.

I needed to do some research to wrap my head around why mushrooms are such a common meat replacement in vegetarian dishes. It's easy to slide a grilled a portobello on a bun and call it a "burger," but we don't cut corners here at Milk Street. The key to making a mushroom dish that hits all the rich, deep and satisfying flavors provided by meat? One word: Umami.

A hot button word, umami is the intense, rich savory flavor present in meat, especially grilled or cured. It’s also in a lot of non-meats, including tomatoes, mushrooms, Parmesan and seaweed, plus fermented or cured products, like pickles and kimchi. Umami-rich ingredients (we call them “umami bombs”) are secret weapons in the vegetarian pantry and mushrooms pack in umami in spades.

Dried mushrooms, particularly woodsy porcini, have a concentrated savory flavor that can boost the umami in your dishes, vegetarian or not. In the case of this ragù, dried porcini are hydrated and chopped (the soaking water is saved for an extra punch of flavor), then combined with fresh mushrooms, which add both savoriness and a hefty, chewy texture to help the dish feel substantial.

For two additional hits of umami, store-bought mushroom broth (or vegetable broth) and a dash of soy sauce will enhance the savoriness even more. All of this umami was well and good, but my skepticism remained. Would this be substantial enough for dinner? Satisfying enough? Only one way to find out!

Step 1: Gather the ingredients

To start, I gathered dried porcini and fresh shiitakes (oyster or cremini works too), plus garlic, dry white wine, soy sauce, mushroom stock, a sprig of rosemary, chopped parsley and pasta. Oh, and of course, lots of buttah.
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Step 2: Rehydrate the Mushrooms

Next step on the docket: Rehydrate the porcini! In a small bowl, I combined the porcini mushrooms with boiling water, letting them soak until softened, which took about 15 minutes. Once hydrated, I strained the mushrooms from the liquid (reserving it in a separate bowl) and squeezed all the excess liquid out of the mushrooms. A quick fine chop, and they were ready.
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Step 3: Pulse the Mushrooms

While the porcini soaked, I cleaned my shiitakes and pulsed them in the food processor until finely chopped.
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Step 4: Build the sauce

Once prepped, I added butter to a heavy skillet and let that melt before stirring in the garlic and sautéing until fragrant. Next, the mushrooms (both fresh and rehydrated) joined the party, plus the rosemary sprig and a good hit of salt. I let this cook down over medium-high heat, allowing the liquid released by the mushrooms to evaporate and get everything nice and brown—about 15 minutes or so.
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Step 5: Continue to Build the Flavor

I deglazed everything with a glug of white wine and soy sauce, being sure to scrape up the fond—the flavorful brown bits that stick to the pan. I added the reserved rehydrated mushroom liquid in (straining it through a sieve), then finally, the mushroom broth. I brought it to a boil, then reduced to medium-low heat so the sauce could simmer, stirring occasionally until the sauce was thick and the mushrooms were tender.
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Step 6: Cook the Pasta and Plate

While the sauce cooked down, I got my pasta water boiling and threw in the noodles—you can use any long noodle for this; I opted for fresh tagliatelle. Once the noodles and mushrooms were tender, I added the tagliatelle into the skillet along with a few more knobs of butter, some pasta water and half of the chopped parsley. I tossed the mixture until the pasta was coated and shiny, doing everything in my power to not sneak a bite every few seconds straight from the pot. Off heat, a good sprinkling of parm and more parsley finished this beauty off.
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I didn’t miss meat at all while devouring this. Between the ultra-glossy, buttery sauce and the tender, earthy chopped mushrooms, every bite was rich and savory and creamy—everything a luxurious pasta should be. Any heartiness that was lost by omitting the meat was made up for by the combination of both porcini and shiitake mushrooms, which provided both the chewy texture and salty, full-bodied depth the noodles needed. The addition of soy sauce definitely helped too. The necessity for umami when cooking without meat truly proved itself here. And finished with a bit of parm and lovely fresh parsley, this dish hit all the right notes. Consider me converted, I’m a believer in meatless Mondays after all.

For more Mushroom Week content, learn how to grow your own lion's mane at home; Watch Rosemary Gill make smoky "pulled" portobello mushroom sandwiches; And let Wes Martin teach you the proper way to clean mushrooms.

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