As of February 2022, this creamy mushroom pasta dish is officially my most-loved recipe! If you like this recipe, try my slow simmered pantry ragu.
I absolutely love ragus. Traditionally, a ragu consists of a meat-based sauce served with pasta. That sauce is usually made of vegetables, cooked down until soft and caramelized, then simmered with meat in some form of liquid, like wine, stock, and/or dairy. The long simmering process helps develop a complex flavor. However, I only eat meat once a week these days, so I decided to adapt my typical ragu recipe to a vegetarian version. As a result, this mushroom pasta sauce has a nice meatiness from the mushrooms, while the fennel and onions are aromatic and sweet. I use three braising liquids: wine, stock, and cream for a nice acidity and creaminess. Soy sauce and a rind of parmesan/parmigiano (if you have it) add additional umami flavor for this vegetarian dish.
How can I adapt this recipe?
- Turn it into a meat ragu: Simply substitute the mushrooms for sausage (or use both)! For sausage, you’ll want to brown the meat for several minutes, then remove it from the pan to prevent overcooking while you saute the rest of the aromatics. After that, add the sausage back in when you’re simmering everything. See my notes below for additional substitutions and tips.
- Try out different aromatics: I personally love the combination of mushroom and fennel, but if you’re not a fan, or don’t have fennel at home, here are some other options. Try substituting the fennel for celery in colder weather or leeks in the spring; or you can even add in carrots, too.
The best pasta shape for this creamy mushroom sauce
I really love using fresh pasta here (store-bought totally works!); the soft, silky strands of pasta really complement the mushroom cream sauce. Tagliatelle (or fettucine) and pappardelle are my favorite pasta shapes to pair with the dish — fresh rigatoni is great too if you can find it. Alternatively, for dried varieties, try rigatoni, tagliatelle, or bucatini.
Tips and tricks
For the most flavorful pasta dish, here are a few tips:
- Give the ragu time to simmer. Time is everything here, and it will really help develop those complex, savory flavors.
- Adjust the seasonings as needed. If it’s not creamy enough, add more cream. Not savory or salty enough? Try more soy sauce. And if you like it super savory, try adding a little miso paste.
- Use a porcini broth or mushroom bouillon to really bring out the mushroom-y flavors.
Creamy White Mushroom Ragu Recipe
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil (plus more if needed)
- 1 medium fennel bulb, finely diced
- 1 large onion, finely diced
- 4 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 8 oz assorted mushrooms (i like a mix here; creminis, shiitake, oyster, maitake are all great. if using creminis, slice them. if using shiitake, oyster, maitake, or other wild mushrooms, i recommend tearing them into bite-sized pieces.)
- Salt and black pepper
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 3/4 cup mushroom stock (or vegetable or chicken stock)
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 Rind of parmigiano-reggiano cheese (optional)
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 12 oz dried pasta or 16oz fresh pasta (I recommend using fresh pasta, pappardelle or rigatoni; otherwise, use a high quality dried pasta, such as tagliatelle or bucatini)
- A handful of parsley, minced (minced)
- Finely grated parmigiano-reggiano or pecorino cheese for garnish
- Saute the aromatics: Heat butter and oil in a dutch oven or large, deep saute pan at medium heat until the butter melts and begins to sizzle. Add the fennel, onion, and garlic and stir to ensure the vegetables are coated in the oil. Season with salt and pepper and let cook for at least 15 – 20 minutes at medium heat until the vegetables are soft, translucent, and slightly caramelized (golden brown at the edges). If the vegetables look like they’re starting to burn at all, turn the heat down.
- Cook the mushrooms: Add the mushrooms and cook for about 10 minutes until they fully release all moisture. Season with salt and pepper, then increase the heat to medium-high. Let the mixture cook for about 5 minutes until the mushrooms caramelize and turn golden brown. Again, if it looks like the mixture is burning, turn the heat down.
- Add the liquids: Add the wine. Bring liquid to a boil and let reduce, for at least a few minutes until the wine is at about half the volume it was before.
- Simmer the sauce: Reduce the heat to medium-low until the sauce is at a simmer. Add the stock, 1 teaspoon of the soy sauce, parm rind, and 3/4 cup of the heavy cream, and let simmer for one hour. Check the mixture every 20 to 30 minutes to adjust seasoning. You can add a bit more of the soy sauce if you’d like more saltiness. As the sauce cooks down, you can reduce the heat as needed to maintain a simmer. Do not let the sauce boil at any point, as the cream can curdle.
- Boil the pasta: Ten minutes before the sauce finishes simmering, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta, then cook until it's just barely al dente, and reserve 1 cup of pasta water.
- Check seasoning: After one hour, check on your sauce. If it’s too dry for your liking, you can add the additional 1/4 cup of heavy cream and let simmer for another 10 minutes.
- Finish the dish: Once the pasta is just barely al dente, transfer to the sauce using a slotted spoon. Stir to incorporate into the sauce. Add a few tablespoons of pasta water to loosen the sauce if desired, then let the pasta and sauce reduce on medium-low heat for a minute or two until the sauce clings to the pasta.
- Serve: Season again, then garnish with parsley and cheese and serve immediately.
- If you happen to have dried porcini mushrooms on hand, you can make a wonderful stock by soaking them in hot water for 20 minutes. Then strain the stock and use it in the recipe. You can also chop up the porcinis finely and use them in this dish.
- The biggest factor in a flavorful ragu is time. You need to simmer the sauce for at least an hour to bring out all of those complex flavors.
- Because of the longer cooking time, keep checking the flavor of the dish and add more salt and pepper as needed every 20 – 30 minutes.
- Substitutions: As stated above, the mushrooms can be replaced with sausage or even another ground meat. Or, you can do a 50/5 mix of sausage and mushrooms. If you don’t like fennel, you can omit it, or add celery instead. If you want a less creamy sauce, you can omit some of the cream. Do not use half-and-half, or any dairy product with less fat than cream, or the sauce will separate and/or curdle.