Wild Mushroom Ragu and Panzanella Caprese

This story is about two things. This story is about mushrooms and personal triumph. If you don’t like mushrooms and personal triumph, you should probably stop reading now.

Still with me? Great. Last night, NFT hit the road again. This time, Eric and I were heading up to Hollywood to check out my friend Lindsey K’s new house and cook for some of my nearest and dearest. Lindsey was in charge of getting all the ingredients, including the 2lbs of mushrooms, but I knew I had some key spices at home. I packed up my loot, grabbed my housewarming gift and headed out, locking the door from the inside as always. The second I heard the door close behind me, I knew. My keys were sitting on the kitchen table. Behind the locked door. On the third floor. With my roommate an hour away and not coming home for the night. Crap.

But, the show must go on! So, even though I knew I was coming home to an apartment I was not going to be able to get into, we made the sixteen mile trek (that took us an hour and fifteen minutes) to the city of stars.

Lindsey’s new place is adorable and bless her heart, she had already done a lot of the time consuming chopping for me. The second I got there we tag teamed a wild mushroom ragu with gnocchi and a hybrid of an Italian panzanella and caprese. Sounds fancy right? Wrong. Basically, ragu is a fancy name for pasta sauce and a caprese and panzanella hybrid is basically tomatoes with basil, mozzarella and bread on top. Don’t believe me? See for yourself…

After a delicious meal, my stomach ached from eating too much and laughing too hard and I knew it was time to head home and face reality. When we got home, we spent a good amount of time deciding whether or not it was reasonable to attempt to scale the wall. Since I already promised my mother I wouldn’t scale any more walls (maybe someday I will explain to you why I though scaling my wall in Croatia because I was locked out was a good idea), we opted for calling a locksmith.

As we sat there and waited for the locksmith that was going to be at least another 45 minutes and cost me at least $40, I was feeling pretty low. Until our savior rode up on this bike. God only knows why my neighbor was riding his bike home at 12 in the morning, but he was. And good lord am I grateful. He came up with a brilliant plan for us to go out his loft window onto the roof and climb in through my loft window. Thankfully Eric had opened the window earlier to get some air. Triumph! We didn’t have to sleep in the hallway or pay through the nose to have some stranger break into my home. All’s well that ends well. And all’s good that tastes good.

Love and Beer Floats

Wild Mushroom Ragu
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 large onion, diced
2 small carrots, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 pounds wild mushrooms, stemmed and diced if large
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 pound cremini mushrooms, stemmed and quartered
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup canned whole San Marzano tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 1/2 pounds fresh gnocchi
Mascarpone and/or fresh mint, for topping
Use our simple, step-by-step instructions for making homemade gnocchi.

Heat half of the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrots and celery and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add half of the wild mushrooms and cook until golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then push to the edges of the pot. Add the remaining olive oil and wild mushrooms and cook 3 to 5 more minutes. Add the cremini mushrooms and cook 1 more minute. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, about 2 minutes. Add the wine; cook, scraping up any browned bits, about 2 more minutes. Add the tomatoes, 2 cups water, the bay leaves, coriander, fennel, red pepper flakes, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Simmer over medium heat, about 30 minutes (thin with water if needed). Season with salt and pepper.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the gnocchi, stir and cook for 1 minute after they float, about 3 minutes total. Transfer with a slotted spoon to the pot with the sauce and gently stir over low heat. Serve topped with mascarpone and/or mint.

Baked Panzanella Caprese
Butter, for greasing baking sheet
5 vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 (8-ounce) balls fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced into 1/4-inch thick slices and patted dry with paper towels
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 packed cup chopped fresh basil leaves
Olive oil, for drizzling
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 to 8 (1/2-inch thick) slices country white bread
Put an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 9 by 12-inch rimmed baking sheet. Set aside.

Arrange the tomato slices on the bottom of the baking sheet in a single layer. Drizzle with the balsamic vinegar. Lay the cheese slices on top in a single layer. Sprinkle with the garlic and basil and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Arrange the bread slices on top and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 25 minutes until the filling is bubbling and the bread is crisp and golden. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes before serving.