Vegetarian on the Fly!

I am very lucky to have my cousin, who happens to be one of my best friends, in the same city as me. (I recently moved to NYC a couple months ago and was pleasantly surprised to find out my cousin was also living in NYC. We have never lived in the same city so it is very exciting for us to be so close to each other).

Anyway back to the story…so my cousin and I like to have dinners together when time permits and I always love cooking for her because she is so enthusiastic and appreciative. I called her this past week confirming our dinner date and asked her if there was anything in particular she wanted me to make (I already had a turkey ragu in mind with creamy polenta) and she said she was fine with anything but she had recently become a vegetarian.


I actually don’t have a huge problem with cooking vegetarian food; I usually eat meatless meals a couple times a week but I already had my mind and heart set on making this yummy turkey ragu. (Did I mention she informed me of her new dietary preference a couple hours before our dinner date?)

Vegetarian on the fly!

I decided to swap out the turkey and do a meatless ragu with a variety of mushrooms and I can guarantee any carnivore will love this dish because it is rich, hearty, and soul satisfying.

Mushroom Ragu with Local Polenta and Fontina

Mushroom Ragu

Makes 4 Servings

1 serving = 1 cup = 3 Points Plus

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 35 minutes

  • ½ oz dried porcini mushrooms (rehydrated in 1 ½ cups of hot water…save leftover liquid!)
  • 4 sundried tomatoes (not packed in oil…also rehydrated in hot water)
  • 1 cup leeks, sliced
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 medium bulb of fennel, diced
  • 1 stalk of celery, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 10 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 # of mixed mushrooms (I used creminis, chanterelles, shiitakes, and trumpet royales but use whatever variety you like)
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • ½ cup of white wine
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (secret ingredient)
  • 1 tbsp of lemon juice
  • salt and pepper as needed

First you need to rehydrate your porcini mushrooms and sundried tomatoes in hot water. I usually just heat up some water on the stove or microwave until it’s simmering and cover the mushrooms and tomatoes, in separate bowls with the hot water. You’ll want at least a cup and a half of water covering the mushrooms because that water will turn into delicious and beautiful mushroom broth that you will add to your mushroom ragu.

Heat a dutch oven or large pot on the stove over low heat. Spray with non-stick cooking spray and add your leeks, peppers, fennel, and celery. Allow this to sweat for 5-6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic and thyme sprigs and allow to cook for 1 minute.

Turn the heat up to medium and add your mushrooms and continue to cook, stirring often. Season with salt and pepper.

As I said before I used a variety of exotic mushrooms (I went a little crazy at Whole Foods…it’s hard not to.) Using a variety of mushrooms is awesome because each mushroom has a different flavor, texture, and intensity. Some mushrooms are meatier, some more delicate, chewy, etc. So I urge to try some new mushrooms in this dish.



Trumpet Royale

At this point you want your mushrooms to brown and caramelize not sweat. Once they are golden brown add your tomato paste and stir and allow that to cook for 1-2minutes.

Add your white wine and allow that to cook for at least 3-4 minutes or until the wine has cooked down and the alcohol scent has evaporated. Once the wine has cooked down, add your porcini broth and bring up to a simmer. Cover the pot with a lid and allow to cook for 10 minutes or so, scraping the bottom of the dutch oven every so often.

Once most of the liquid has evaporated taste the ragu. Season it accordingly. If you think it needs to cook longer, allow it to cook, if you think it’s about ready add your balsamic vinegar. The balsamic vinegar adds a hint of sweetness and creates a depth of flavor to the ragu. It really takes the dish a step further from just a pot of sautéed mushrooms to something soulful and sexy.

When ready to serve add your lemon juice at the very last moment.

Local Polenta with Fontina

Makes 4 Servings

1 serving = ½ cup = 6 Points Plus

Prep Time: 3 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

  • 1 cup polenta (I used local polenta from Clinton Corners, NY from Wild Hive Farm)**
  • 2-½ cup skim milk
  • 2-½ cup water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 ½ oz fontina cheese, grated
  • salt and pepper as needed

I am big proponent of supporting local farms and products. I used to live in the Hudson Valley in New York in a little town called Poughkeepsie. The Hudson Valley is an amazing agricultural area and I was really fortunate to be so close to so many farms and be able to support the local guys. This bag of polenta I used is actually from my old apartment in Poughkeepsie that I brought with me to NYC (for fear I couldn’t find it in NYC). However, I found out that Wild Hive Farm products are sold in NYC (Union Square Greenmarket, Eataly, and some other establishments I’m sure).

So bring your water and skim milk up to a simmer in a medium saucepot. Watch it carefully because milk has the tendency to boil over onto your stovetop. Add your bay leaf. Slowly whisk in your polenta in a thin stream. Continue whisking for at least 5 minutes. The polenta will start to thicken up pretty quickly.

Continue stirring every 5 minutes or so, to make sure the polenta is not sticking to the bottom of the pot. You might have to add ½ cups of water every so often to keep the polenta nice and soft. This polenta will take at least 30-45 minutes to fully cook.

I like my polenta soft and creamy but if you like it more firm just use less water. When you are about ready to serve, stir in your fontina until it melts. Fontina gives the polenta extra creaminess and richness but you can substitute any cheese you like or omit the cheese completely…it’s up to you!

**if you are in a time crunch, you can substitute quick-cooking grits or polenta for the local polenta. It will not have the same texture but I’m sure it will taste just as delicious in a fraction of the time. If you do use the quick-cooking kind, make sure to follow the directions on the back of the box.


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