Sep 24, 2008

Wild Mushroom Tomato Sauce with Bison

So the other day, I'm taking the dog for a walk. It's recycling day, so everyone's blue bins were out on the curb. I don't like to be a snoop, but I couldn't help but notice that in almost every bin was an empty spaghetti sauce jar. Really?

Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for shortcuts that make sense. These days it's a challenge just to get home at a decent hour, much less to have time to plan a meal, shop for provisions, and then come home and put it all together. But I've never had a jarred spaghetti sauce that tasted like anything but adulterated ketchup. Even if you only took a can of roasted chunky tomatoes and heated it up with some basil and maybe a little garlic, you'd be much better off. I always thought spaghetti sauce was one of those things that was universal. Something everyone made, whether they "cooked" or not. Guess I was wrong.

Spaghetti sauce is easy enough for kids to make and is incredibly versatile. Make spaghetti, lasagna, stuffed shells, baked pasta dishes, stuffed peppers... It's good to have in the freezer. And who doesn't like spaghetti? Kids, adults, make it fancy or just homey and comforting, it's all good.

This is a basic recipe I've been using for years that relies on lots of mushrooms for meaty richness, whether we add meat or not. You can make it vegetarian (serve it with grilled portobellos) or not, tinker with the flavorings as you like. It still stands up. One addition we've made recently is to use ground bison meat instead of ground beef. I don't want to get into preaching about grass-fed versus grain-fed, but suffice it to say, it's worth learning about. The average supermarket grain-fed, antibiotic-filled and steroid-loaded ground beef from industrial feed lots is scary, scary stuff. Not to mention, who needs more unnecesasry fat and cholesterol?

Enter buffalo meat. It's low fat, low cholesterol, full of nutrients and has as many Omega-3s as salmon. Did you know that? 100 grams of beef can have over 8 grams of fat. The same amount of skinless chicken, over 7 grams of fat. Grass fed bison has under 2 grams of fat. So if you're craving red meat, try bison. You'll be satisfied in your tummy and in your heart.

We've been buying bison locally from Thunderheart Bison at the farmer's market. Find out more about bison on their web site. Their jerky is also really good, not too salty and not full of bad stuff.

Now you're saying, but yeah, how does it taste? Bison is very lean. So in a cut like a steak, it's going to be a little different than beef. But in a sauce, it's perfect. I truly can't distinguish any taste difference. We've served it to folks who would have thought bison just plain weird and they loved it. So you can have your red meat spaghetti sauce and eat it too.

This recipe freezes really well. We made a double batch before going on vacation and took a frozen container of it with us to have at our little cabin. This is a good dish to make ahead, to allow the flavors to fully develop. It's really better if you can make it a day ahead and let it all come together overnight in the fridge.

Wild Mushroom Tomato Sauce with Bison

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup boiling water
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
12 ounces button mushrooms, quartered
8 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon dried, crushed red pepper flakes
1/8 - 1/4 cup dry red wine
1 pound ground bison
28-ounce can crushed, roasted tomatoes with added purée

Put the dried porcinis in a small bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Cover and let soak for 30 minutes. (Tip: it sometimes helps to put another bowl on top to cover them and help fully submerge all the little dried pieces.)

Strain the mushrooms, reserving the soaking liquid. Remove the stems and then slice the mushrooms.

Heat the oil in a large soup pot. Add the onion and cook until tender and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the fresh and rehydrated mushrooms and garlic. Sauté another 5 minutes. Add the rosemary and red pepper flakes.

Add the ground bison, stirring occasionally, until cooked through.

Add the wine and reserved mushroom soaking liquid. Increase heat and boil until the liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes.

Add the canned tomatoes. Reduce heat and simmer for at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to come together. You can simmer much longer or let cool and refrigerate overnight. The flavors will marry in the fridge and be even richer the next day.

Serve over your favorite pasta. We like to use whole wheat linguine or perciatelli. (Perciatelli is like spaghetti, but a little thicker and with a hollow center. Gives it a wonderful toothy bite.)

Serves 4-6. Can be easily doubled.


Andrea said...

Love the recipes on your blog! This one looks so good. When I used to live in Colorado, bison was not unheard of, but I don't know where I'd get it now! Maybe this will be a good one to try on a visit home.

maggie said...

Makes me hungry just looking at this—I usually make spaghetti sauce with LOTS of red wine that cooks down...Love the mushrooms in this one!

Suzanne said...

Two points:

1. I've been making my own spaghetti sauce since college and love it - I do it a little different each time, so it's always an adventure what we'll get! :) Seriously, though, most people are jar folks - I think they think it's harder than it is.

2. Which farmer's market do you go to? I went to the one at Whole Foods once and wasn't impressed. Maybe you could do a post about different ones in the area and what you think!