For more than 10 years, I’ve celebrated Hollywood’s annual glitz-fest (and it’s associated observer’s snark-fest) at an Oscar party thrown by my good friends. Since we are all avid cooks and eaters, the one result I always know for sure is even if the show is awful, the food will be great. This is probably why while others wonder who’s going to win, what they’ll wear, and who’ll lose their nominated acting skills when it comes to hiding their disappointment at not winning, I’ll be thinking about food. To be fair, I’m usually thinking about food, regardless of awkward host moments and tear-filled acceptance speeches. But this year’s annual Tinsel Town fete got me thinking…there really should be an Oscars for food.
It wouldn’t be all that different from Sunday’s broadcast when you give it some thought. The pre-show red tablecloth would feature a buffet of mostly appealing nominees (and a few of questionable taste), circled by a flock of pundits issuing running commentary like “can your believe they put THAT sauce on that fish,” and “this year saffron is the new black truffle!” The less popular categories go first — Best Foreign Entry (I'm pulling for porcinis), Best (recipe) Writing, Best Costume (plating) and Best Makeup (garnishing). Thankfully, the academy choses to leave out Best Hair. This year’s supporting category looked like a contest at first, but by ceremony time everyone knew that roasted fingerlings with pancetta was a shoe-in. Then we get to the "big" award. Best producer is always a hot contest between cow, chicken, goat and sheep, but the dark-horse soybean could make a last minute grab due to the growing Hollywood vegan vote.
O.K., maybe I’m stretching it a bit here. But with a likely five-hour odyssey of programming and maybe 40 minutes of good content, a gal's got to find plenty to occupy the mind when George Clooney isn't on screen. Luckily, my stomach will have plenty of great food to occupy it too.
Dear members of the Academy: I’d like to submit my Mushroom Ragu for your consideration in the Best Supporting Sauce category. This dark rich sauce is perfect with a burger, steak or a roast, and can play a leading role on pasta, potatoes or my favorite, polenta. Hopefully you’ll like it…you’ll really like it!
Makes about 1 ½ cups
½ TBSP olive oil
1 TBSP butter
1 package (10 oz.) sliced cremini mushrooms
¼ ounce dried porcini mushrooms
¾ cup boiling water
1 tsp lemon zest
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp chopped thyme
½ tsp finely chopped rosemary
¼ cup chopped onion
1 tsp tomato paste
2-3 TBSPs dry sherry
1 TBSP corn starch
1 TBSP soy sauce
A good squeeze of lemon (about ¼ of a lemon’s worth)
Salt and pepper
Add the dried porcinis to a bowl and cover with 3/4 cup boiling water. Let steep for 15 minutes. Scoop out the mushrooms and chop, reserving the mushroom liquid.
Sauté onions, mushrooms, herbs and a pinch of salt over medium heat until the onions are wilted, the mushrooms have given up most of their liquid and the pan is just moist, about 7-9 minutes. Add the garlic and a few grinds of pepper and sauté another minute or two until the pan is dry. Add in the tsp of tomato paste and cook 1-2 minutes until the tomato paste is a dark mahogany color. Remove the pan from heat and deglaze with the dry sherry, scraping up any browned bits in the pan. Strain the mushroom liquid into the pan. Bring to a simmer.
Dissolve the cornstarch in the tablespoon of soy sauce and a tablespoon of water. Add to the pan and stir 2-3 minutes over a slow simmer. The sauce will thicken as you stir. Turn off heat and squeeze in a quarter lemon. This sauce freezes well, so I will often make a double batch and stow half until I need it (like when I want it over a humble baked potato for dinner.) Calories: approximately 115 per half cup.