Monday, June 25, 2007

A rosemary and red wine sauce

Rosemary is something of a challenge in a vegetarian kitchen. Strongly flavoured, it all too often overpowers subtler ingredients. Rosemary demands your full attention. Her camphor-laced flavour is bitter when used excessively so a considered, disciplined hand is required. While a fleeting hint is delicious, a wallop of the stuff will leave you feeling like you’ve eaten a handful of mothballs.

But she has much to offer. Ancient Greek scholars wore rosemary to improve the memory, their necks garlanded with her long branches. Almost universally she symbolizes remembrance and, of all things, love. An Hungarian friend once returned from a wedding bearing a healthy sprig. ‘If it grows’, she declared, ‘your true love will find you within twelve months’. Romantic stuff. Though it was duly planted, sadly to no avail, I am not one to give up on such fancies quite so easily.

Potatoes, peeled or not, and roasted with whole cloves of garlic and a few healthy sprigs of rosemary are divine; chunks of vegetables skewered onto long stalks, stripped of all but the paintbrush-like tips make great barbeque fare in the warmer months. But, down here at least, winter has firmly taken hold.

The meal (of which this sauce was a part) is too long and complicated to write up in these pages, suffice to say it took all afternoon and much of the early evening. Braised root vegetables (whole shallots, carrots, parsnips and big, earthy mushrooms), a swede and potato mash (made creamy with a spoonful of mascarpone) and perfectly tender Puy lentils, held together by this sauce.

Oh, this sauce.

Enough to make you swoon. Enough to make you pat yourself on the back and marvel at your own culinary genius. We ate silently, slurpingly, appreciatively.

Red wine, porcini and rosemary sauce – adapted from Local Flavours by Deborah Madison

So comforting and good is this sauce that it should prove, once and for all, to anyone doubting the virtues of a meat-free life that vegetarian fare can and does deeply, deeply satisfy.

Small palmful of dried porcini
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
2 celery sticks, diced
8 mushrooms, quartered
4 cloves of garlic, smashed with the flat of your knife
1x 5cm (2 inch) sprig of rosemary
2 sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
Sea salt
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
2 tablespoons of plain white flour
2 cups (500ml) of good, well-flavoured red wine
1 tablespoon of tamari
1 tablespoon of unsalted butter (optional)

Place the porcini in a bowl and cover with 1 litre of freshly boiled water. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven. Add the vegetables, garlic and herbs. Cook over a medium-high heat, stirring only occasionally, until the vegetables are well browned. This should take you about 20 minutes.

Add 1 teaspoon of sea salt to the pot. Stir in the tomato paste and flour, letting it cook for a minute or two to take the ‘rawness’ off the flour. Add the wine, scraping the bottom of the pot to release any caramelized bits and then pour in the porcini and their soaking liquor.

Bring to the boil, then lower the heat, cover with a lid and gently simmer for 45 minutes. Strain through a colander into a large saucepan, pressing down on the vegetables with the back of a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Return the strained sauce to the heat and gently simmer for 15 minutes. Add the tamari and taste for seasoning (it will be pretty damn good, so you won’t need more than a touch of pepper).

Whisk in the butter, if you are using it, just before serving.

Double the recipe and freeze it in 1 cup measurements for fast mid-week cooking. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination; a shepherd’s pie of tender lentils, drained and mixed with 1 cup of sauce and topped with fluffy mash will make an easy mid-week meal. But don’t stop there. Some big mushrooms, sliced thickly, pan-fried until juicy and finished in a ½ a cup of the sauce make the most beautiful topping for toast mid-winter.

This post is being submitted to Kalyn Denny, creator and host of this weeks Weekend Herb Blogging.

Nourishing indeed.


kathryn said...

What a beautiful recipe. I have some rosemary from my parent's garden in the fridge and this is perfect.

I love rosemary with garlic and white beans, they make a fantastic combination that sparks the beans up a treat.

Lucy said...

Oh, Kathryn, it's magnificent. Love rosemary, but she's difficult at times.

You know those white beans you've got in the freezer? I'm going to use some of the leftover sauce to 'dress' the ones I froze at your suggestion on the weekend.

When I say 'leftover', there's not a lot actually left over. We caught each other eating spoonfuls from the pan over the weekend...

Christina said...

Beautiful. I love rosemary, and I especially love it with ingredients that are sweet--root vegetables are the perfect balance to rosemary's resinous astringency.

Great recipe. I've got to lodge it my brain for when winter rolls around here.

shula said...

This makes me crazy just looking at it.

I do so love Winter cooking...

Wendy said...

Delicious. Love the idea of the lentil shepherd's pie.
I adore rosemary. Being a meat-eater it's much easier to incorporate in my cooking. Lamb & rosemary has to be my favourite.
Just recently used the rosemary stalks as skewers for a vegetable kebab. That worked very well as the flavour subtly infused the veg.

L Vanel said...

It looks like a nice sauce to have on hand and a great way to use rosemary. Thanks, Lucy!

Johanna said...

I love your photo of the little forest of rosemary. I bought some rosemary on the weekend so will keep this image in my head when I am using mine! I agree it doesn't seem a likely herb for vegetarian fare but the web has yielded a few interesting ideas so I am looking forward to cooking with it (apart from roast spuds)

was glad to see I am not the only one to potter about for hours in the kitchen preparing a meal

Figs Olives Wine said...

Oh no, you gave me season envy! We haven't even got our peaches yet, and you made me yearn for crisp weather and hearty braises. Beautiful post!

Nora B. said...

Lucy, that sounds like a very comforting dish. I love the combination of garlic and rosemary with any root vegetables.

Susan said...

I'm glad someone finally put rosemary in her place. I love it, Lucy, but always wondered why my sauces sometimes were so potent they tasted like poison.

What magazine is the full meal from, is it all Deborah Madison's recipe? Looks earthy, rich and healthy.

Anh said...

I love your photo of the rosemary. Great shot!

Cynthia said...

I see you, I see you swooning over there :)

Lucy said...

Christina - it's hard being in opposite hemispheres at times isn't it? As you guys are heading into the abundance of summer, we're rugged up and eating our's a keeper this recipe!

Shula, it still makes me crazy...

Wendy, I love it when you rub your fingers on the needles and the scent that is left behind is beautiful.

Hi Lucy. Am so pleased that you stopped by. Quite flattered really, so thank you for your kind words.

It's funny Johanna, but I thought of you when I was pottering around. All of your recent forays have been fun and, I can see, time-consuming!

Amanda, I'm dreaming of peaches now...

Thanks Nora. I love that combination too.

Ah, Susan. I'm glad that I had the courage to do so. She's a resinous beast. Perfect with red meat, but a little harder to deal with beyond that point. The complete recipe is from Deborah Madison's Local Flavours, a book full of recipes and thoughts about America's farmer's markets. It's worth every single penny...

Thanks, Anh!

Oh, I'm still swooning Cynthia!

SteamyKitchen said...

You know how to tame rosemary's pungency is to make a flavored salt with them. maybe combine rosemary with a citrus for a salt?

Kalyn said...

Oh, it does look truly wonderful. I love rosemary, and I agree this sauce sounds wonderfully versatile.

Lucy said...

Hi Jaden, that is a brilliant idea!

It's really versatile Kalyn - am always looking for ideas to make mid-week cooking just that little bit easier.

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

I love rosemary and I always use it on my potatoes! They blend perfectly together!

Lucy said...

Ah, Jenn, potatoes and rosemary. A match made in heaven!

MeltingWok said...

I have the same problem. Then again, I was using the dried ones, don't know how much different that is to the fresh ones. Thanks for the useful tips :)

katiez said...

What a wonderful sauce for any time of year. Red wine and rosemery - perfect flavors..with the rest of the goodies to round it out!