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.
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
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.