RECIPE: Mushroom Ragu from First & South

Mixed mushroom ragu at First and South.

Mixed mushroom ragù at First and South.

I am always on the prowl for healthy menu items that not only taste amazing, but also are just as amazing for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love a crispy, gooey cookie, a good stiff drink, or a juicy burger, but for the most part I find myself looking for food that will keep me satisfied, give me energy and keep my waistline in check.

My regular quest is to find healthy menu items that not only taste amazing, but are amazing for me. That led me to First and South restaurant in Greenport last fall where I met chef Scott Leventhal and tasted his mushroom ragù. Leventhal warns he’s an introvert, but I find he is far from it; he’s warm, funny and comfortable in deep conversation about all things — food and otherwise. So lets talk healthy food …

“Healthy, healthy items on my menu, I don’t know, I would have to think,” Levethal says, “Probably the salads, the soup, the veggie meatballs, my carrot ginger soup, and the East End Mushroom dish, of course, which is so simple to make, and delicious.”

Well, to his surprise, there are a variety of heathful items on the menu. A French culinary graduate, whose basic training includes cream and butter in every dish, Leventhal has found if he lets the ingredients speak for themselves there is no need to smother them. “However, a pat here and there can offer substance and finish,” he adds. He makes all his own stock, including the carrot stock for his carrot soup, and uses nutritious canola and extra virgin olive oil to start every dish.

Leventhal turns me on to his favorite menu item, the mushroom ragù. I am not a huge ‘shroom fan, so I was a bit apprehensive. The mushrooms, sourced from The East End Mushroom Company, make this dish earthy, creamy and incredibly bold, but at the same time simple yet complex. I can see why it is a favorite with its mix of exotic shiitake, maitake (hen of the woods) and oyster mushrooms. The East End Mushroom Company in Cutchogue was founded in October 2012 specializes in these varieties. Grown in a state of the art facility, and picked daily, the mushrooms are offered to everyone including local chefs and home cooks.

There is a smidgen of butter here, but the taste is pure mushroom with a hint of tarragon and fresh herbs. The sauce is rich, and deeply satisfying; I dip some crusty bread in to soak up every last drop.

Recently scientists have discovered that some mushrooms contain as many antioxidants as carrots, green beans, red peppers and broccoli.

Mushrooms are naturally low in sodium, fat, cholesterol and calories, while providing a good amount of protein, B vitamins, copper and other minerals. In addition to providing nutrition, they help prevent chronic disease due to  antioxidants and beneficial dietary fibers. We all know that we should eat our brightly colored fruits and veggies, because that is where antioxidants are predominately found. However, recently scientists have discovered that some mushrooms contain as many antioxidants as carrots, green beans, red peppers and broccoli.  Although chicken liver and wheat germ contain high sources of the antioxidant ergothioneine, the common white button mushroom, contains 12 times more ergothioneine than wheat germ and four times more than chicken liver. They also have a higher antioxidant score than tomatoes, green peppers, pumpkin, zucchini, carrots, and green beans. If you like your exotic mushrooms, or you eat the mushroom ragù at First and South, youve hit the jackpot, because they contain even more, with shitake, oyster, king oyster, or maitake varieties providing more than 40 times as much ergothioneine as wheat germ. Cooking does not  decrease levels either — like in other vegetables — and can actually enhance their mineral content. So if mushrooms can improve cholesterol levels, as well as lower the risk of obesity, while providing an immunity boost and enhancing our memory, we probably should be eating more of this not so colorful, earthy fellow, no?

The restaurant’s tag line, “Find your way,” is appropriate. This place is not in the center of town but a place you do have to find. And you guessed it’s at the intersection of First and South streets.  Levanthal says, “First and South is where I feel I have found my way,” says Levanthal, “it is a place where careers grow, and in a sense helps everyone find their way.”

Mushroom Ragù
8 oz. maitake mushrooms
8 oz. shiitake mushrooms
8 oz. oyster mushrooms
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup mushroom stock or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon roasted garlic
1 tablespoon butter
1¼ tablespoons tarragon
1¼ tablespoons chives
1¼ tablespoons parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Clean, trim the ends and dry the mushrooms. Toss them in a bowl with salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Spread on sheet pan and cook in the oven at 350° for 15 minutes. While mushrooms are cooking, whisk 1 tablespoon of roasted garlic with1 tablespoon of softened butter. Finely chop parsley, tarragon and chives. Take the mushrooms out of the oven and let rest for a few minutes. In a saute pan add 1 tablespoon of oil and let the pan get hot. Add the mushrooms and cook till nice golden brown color. Make sure to keep mixing the mushrooms so they do not burn. Add 3/4 of the fresh herbs to the pan and let them toast with the mushrooms, releasing their natural flavors. Add red wine, and let reduce to about 7/8 its original amount. Add stock and reduce by half. Turn off the heat and incorporate your garlic butter. Season with salt and pepper, garnish with remaining fresh herbs and enjoy!