The Best Meatless Italian-Style Comfort Food: Wild Mushroom Ragu Pasta
Ragu is one of my all-time favorite foods, to eat and to cook. I’d even go so far as to say it’s my culinary specialty! I was first introduced to the beauty of this style of Italian meat sauce at the fine dining Italian restaurant, where I worked after college. I was so obsessed with the various ragu pasta dishes our chefs whipped up on any given week that ragu was one of the first things I taught myself how to cook.
And in the past 10+ years since, I haven’t stopped! We’ve shared a number of ragu recipes here on PWWB over the years – Slowly Braised Lamb Ragu, Short Rib Ragu, Pork Ragu, even Bolognese! – but there’s yet to be a meatless ragu recipe…until now, that is!
This Wild Mushroom Ragu just might be one of my all-time favorite pasta recipes we’ve shared here on PWWB. The use of 3 different types of mushrooms creates a well-rounded mushroom flavor, while loads of fragrant aromatics, fresh herbs, and a porcini-infused stock help build a sauce that’s seriously rich and hearty. I guarantee you won’t miss the meat!
If you’ve tried our other ragu recipes, you’ll notice the ingredients list and technique used for this wild mushroom ragu is slightly different. First, its ingredients list is much simpler – it doesn’t make use of soffritto or any tomatoes, which ensures the earthy mushroom flavor is really the star of the dish. Second, it has a much quicker cook time than braised meat ragu – the mushroom ragu sauce itself only simmers for about 10 minutes!
Essentially, you can whip up the coziest bowl of hearty ragu pasta any night of the week, and I don’t think life gets much better than that!
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Mushroom Ragu Recipe Highlights
This Wild Mushroom Ragu recipe is the best ever because it’s…
- MUSHROOM HEAVEN. This wild mushroom ragu recipe uses 3 different kinds of mushrooms – fresh and dried! – for a well-rounded flavor. Easily customize it to use the mushrooms you love most!
- RICH AND HEARTY. Mushrooms create loads of savory, umami richness in this meatless ragu sauce, cooking down into tender bites with crispy-brown edges for a familiar meaty texture.
- THE FASTEST RAGU EVER. While slowly braised meat ragu takes hours to make, this wild mushroom ragu is ready in 1 hour or less. Super quick and easy!
The ultimate meatless Italian comfort food! ♡ Read on to learn more about how to make Wild Mushroom Ragu, or jump straight to the recipe and get cooking!
First Thing’s First – What is Ragu?
Let’s chat ragu for a moment! I first was introduced to ragu in my days working as a server at a fine dining Italian restaurant in Milwaukee. One of our specialties was a rotating ragu della casa (house ragu), which would change every week based on what the chefs were in the mood to cook and serve. “What is ragu?!” was always our guests’ most frequently asked question!
“Ragu” is a broad term used to describe a rich, slowly cooked Italian meat sauce. It’s hearty, intensely flavorful, and unlike a slowly simmered marinara or tomato sauce, ragu is all about the meat. In that sense, it’s almost more stew-like than what may come to mind when you think of Italian sauces. However, much like marinara or tomato sauce, ragu is traditionally served with pasta, gnocchi or polenta. Perhaps, without even knowing it, you’ve enjoyed arguably the most famous ragu – bolognese!
This particular wild mushroom ragu recipe delivers the same rich and hearty flavor of ragu, but without the meat! Instead, it uses 3 types of mushrooms – cremini mushrooms, beautiful wild mushrooms, and decadent porcini mushrooms – to deliver the ultimate mushroom flavor. The mushrooms simmer with garlic, herbs, and vermouth, creating an intensely aromatic and boldly flavored sauce that’s perfect to toss into pasta or serve over polenta.
If you’ve never made ragu before, don’t worry! I’ve been cooking various ragu recipes for the past 10+ years (ever since my serving days!). It’s one of my absolute favorite things to cook, so you’re in good hands here.
Key Ingredients for the Best Mushroom Ragu
Note: Full ingredients list and measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.
Like the best Italian-style dishes, this mushroom ragu recipe uses a very simple list of ingredients, but it’s all about using the highest quality you can find and giving them a little TLC to create an absolutely beautiful meal. You will need…
- Mushrooms – This wild mushroom ragu recipe uses a mix of wild mushrooms (I love maitake mushrooms, which are also called hen of the woods), cremini mushrooms (aka baby bella), and dried porcini mushrooms. Together they create a well-rounded blend of all the flavors mushrooms have to offer!
- Aromatics – The base of this ragu sauce is a fragrant layer of yellow onion, garlic, and fresh thyme.
- Vegetable stock – Or vegetable broth, if that’s what you have on hand!
- Dry vermouth – Originating in France, dry vermouth is a fortified wine infused with herbs and botanicals. It has a slightly more complex flavor than wine and pairs beautifully with mushrooms! Using boldly flavored vermouth is especially important to build richness in a meatless dish. If you don’t have vermouth, you can also use a dry white wine.
- Grated parmesan and heavy cream – For an extra layer of richness and creaminess that helps bring the mushroom ragu pasta together.
The Best Mushrooms for Mushroom Ragu
Because they’re the star of the show here, this wild mushroom ragu is loaded with 3 different kinds of fresh and dried mushrooms.
Fresh mushrooms are irresistibly hearty and provide a meaty texture perfect for ragu. Feel free to use the fresh mushrooms you love most or what’s most readily available wherever you are. I love balancing splurge-worthy wild mushrooms like maitake mushrooms (pictured, though oyster, chanterelle, and shiitake mushrooms are fantastic!) with a more cost-effective mushroom like cremini (aka baby bella, pictured, though simple white button mushrooms work great too!).
Porcini mushrooms are the third type of mushroom used in this recipe. They’re an Italian variety famous for their especially rich and deep umami flavor. Dried porcini mushrooms are typically much more affordable and accessible than fresh here in the States. Dried mushrooms are a cost-effective way to get the big, bold flavor of typically more expensive wild mushrooms like porcini. You can find them in the bulk or dry goods section of most grocery stores, or buy them online. The key is to reconstitute dried mushrooms with a liquid to easily capture their flavor.
How to Make an Epic Ragu Mushroom Sauce
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
Resist the urge to add salt when you sauté mushrooms. Salt pulls out the mushroom’s natural moisture, preventing them from browning. Instead, season the mushrooms once they’ve browned and developed good color.
Reconstitute dried porcini mushrooms. Simply combine vegetable broth and dried porcini mushrooms in a small saucepan and simmer for about 10 minutes. Why? ⇢ This step is a total flavor booster! The warm broth softens the dried mushrooms, awakening their natural flavor and making them easy to chop up and add to wild mushroom ragu sauce. Plus, as the mushrooms reconstitute, they infuse a rich umami flavor into the broth, which is later used to build the mushroom ragu pasta.
Brown the fresh mushrooms. Start by heating some olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot like a Dutch oven. Add the fresh mushrooms, stirring occasionally until they turn a deep golden brown. This takes a little while, but it’s so well worth the time! Why? ⇢ Browning the mushrooms creates rich umami flavor, through the Maillard reaction, and the best texture – soft but not mushy, with crispy browned edges. Be sure to work in batches, as needed, to avoid overcrowding the pan!
Cook the aromatics. Once the fresh mushrooms are browned, use the same pot to cook onions until softened and fragrant. From there, add the chopped reconstituted porcini mushrooms, garlic, and fresh thyme. Why? ⇢ Cooking the aromatics releases their flavor and builds a strong foundation for the wild mushroom ragu sauce. Taking 10 minutes to get everything nice and browned creates richer flavor in the final dish.
Deglaze. Turn the heat up on the pan and pour in the dry vermouth, stirring constantly to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Simmer until the vermouth is almost completely absorbed into the aromatics – your kitchen will smell heavenly at this point! Why? ⇢ This step is known as “deglazing,” which is fancy-speak for adding a little bit of liquid to a hot pot. The steam from the liquid helps release the browned bits on the bottom of the hot pan – they’re full of flavor!
Build and simmer the mushroom ragu sauce. Build the ragu by stirring in the porcini-infused stock and grated parmesan cheese. Simmer until the ragu starts to thicken slightly. Finish by stirring in the heavy cream and browned mushrooms, then taste and add more salt or pepper as desired.
Easy Recipe Variations – Vegetarian and/or Vegan Mushroom Ragu:
For a vegetarian mushroom ragu: Simply omit the parmesan or use your favorite rennet-free cheese in its place.
For a vegan mushroom ragu: Swap the parmesan with your favorite non-dairy alternative and omit the heavy cream or use your favorite non-dairy substitute in its place.
The Best Part! How to Make Mushroom Ragu Pasta
The wild mushroom ragu sauce is ready to serve once it’s prepared! Feel free to spoon it on top of a bowl of creamy polenta, or take a couple of extra steps to make a seriously restaurant-worthy mushroom ragu pasta.
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
What’s the Best Pasta for Mushroom Ragu?
Choose a wide, hearty pasta that can stand up to the heartiness of the ragu. Mushroom ragu pappardelle is one of my all-time favorites, but I also like to use mafaldine (pictured), as its ruffly edges add amazing texture. Other great mushroom ragu pasta options include rigatoni, paccheri, or a nice, big fusilli.
Boil the pasta. For a perfectly timed meal, begin cooking your pasta as the aromatics soften for the wild mushroom ragu. Generously season a pot of water, boil, then add the pasta and cook to al dente, stirring occasionally. Important! ⇢ Before draining the pasta, reserve about a cup of starchy pasta water. Pasta water is super valuable and helps the wild mushroom ragu sauce come together with the pasta. For more pasta tips, be sure to check out our guide on How to Cook Pasta Perfectly Every Single Time!
Toss to create mushroom ragu pasta. Once the wild mushroom ragu sauce is finished, add the cooked pasta into the pot with the sauce and gently toss to combine. Important! ⇢ Pasta should always cook with the sauce for a couple of minutes! The ragu sauce should evenly coat every nook and cranny of the pasta, allowing the two elements to come together as a single cohesive mushroom ragu pasta dish. Skipping this step is one of the biggest mistakes I see home cooks make.
Simmer and tweak as necessary. This step is all about feeling! If the wild mushroom ragu sauce needs to loosen up a little, add a touch of pasta water. If the pasta dish is too loose, add a handful of Parmesan cheese or a bit of heavy cream to bind things together. Once it feels right, let the pasta simmer with the wild mushroom ragu for a few minutes. The starch in the pasta will absorb some of the mushroom ragu sauce as it simmers, creating one cohesive dish.
Serving Suggestions and Other Recipe Tips
Mushroom Ragu Pasta Serving Suggestions. ⇢ Pile your mushroom ragu pasta into your favorite serving bowls, then finish with extra grated parmesan and fresh chopped herbs, like parsley or a little extra fresh thyme. I also love to add a drizzle of black truffle oil for an extra-luxe finishing touch.
Leftovers and Reheating. ⇢ Like most ragu, this wild mushroom ragu only gets better with time. The longer the sauce sits, the more its rich flavors start to meld together. Once prepared, you can store the mushroom ragu sauce in the refrigerator for use throughout the week. Simply reheat in a skillet as you boil a fresh pot of pasta, toss it all together, and you’re good to go. Check the Recipe Notes, below, for full Storage and Reheating guidance.
I can’t wait for you to try this Wild Mushroom Ragu recipe! I truly believe it’s the best mushroom pasta dish you can make at home – and I’m pretty sure that once you try it, you’ll agree! If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo and tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about and seeing your PWWB creations!Print
This Best-Ever Wild Mushroom Ragu is seriously bold, rich, and flavorful Italian-style comfort food. And it’s totally meatless! Fragrant aromatics like garlic and fresh thyme simmer in a porcini mushroom-infused stock to create a rich and earthy mushroom flavor. Add some crispy pan-roasted wild mushrooms, freshly grated parmesan, and a drizzle of truffle oil for an extra-luxe finishing touch. Toss the hearty mushroom sauce into pappardelle or spaghetti noodles for a comforting mushroom ragu pasta. Or spoon the homemade mushroom sauce over gnocchi or creamy polenta for an extra-cozy meal.
- 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
- 16 ounces cremini mushrooms (baby bella), trimmed and sliced
- 16 ounces maitake mushrooms (or wild mushroom of choice), trimmed and torn into bite-sized pieces
- one 1-ounce package dried porcini mushrooms (see Recipe Notes)
- 2 cups vegetable stock or broth
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (about 8–10 sprigs)
- 1 cup dry vermouth (see Recipe Notes)
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 12 ounces pasta of choice
- kosher salt and ground black pepper, to season
- for serving, as desired: black truffle oil, grated parmesan, finely chopped fresh herbs, etc.
- Brown the fresh mushrooms: Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil to a large, heavy-bottomed pot (such as a Dutch oven) over medium-high heat. Once hot and shimmering, add half of the mushrooms. Stir to coat the mushrooms in the oil then cook, stirring occasionally, until deeply browned and golden, about 8-10 minutes. Once browned, season with a good pinch of kosher salt and ground black pepper as desired. Transfer the browned mushrooms to a plate and set aside. Repeat with the remaining mushrooms.
- Reconstitute the porcini mushrooms: Meanwhile, as the fresh mushrooms brown, reconstitute the dried porcini mushrooms. Add the vegetable broth and dried porcini mushrooms to a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Simmer 10 minutes to reconstitute the mushrooms. Use a slotted spoon or spider strainer to remove the mushrooms from the pot, allowing all excess liquid to drain back into the pot. Remove the porcini-infused stock from the heat and set aside for later use. Transfer reconstituted porcini mushrooms to a cutting board and finely chop. Set aside.
- Cook the aromatics: Once the fresh mushrooms are browned, cook the aromatics. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to the same pot used to brown the mushrooms. Reduce heat to medium. Once hot and shimmering, add the onions. Season with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and ground black pepper, as desired. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and fragrant, about 5-6 minutes. Add the chopped porcini mushrooms from Step 2 and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the moisture is cooked out, about 1-2 minutes. Add in the garlic and fresh thyme. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes longer.
- Boil the pasta: While the aromatics soften, it’s a great time to get your pasta going. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is cooked to al dente according to package directions. Carefully dip a liquid measuring cup into the pot, reserving about 1 cup of the starchy pasta water, and set aside. Carefully drain the pasta – do NOT rinse it!
- Deglaze: Increasing the heat to medium-high, pour the dry vermouth into the pot. Stir constantly, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits that may have formed at the bottom of the pot. Cook for 3-4 minutes, until the vermouth is almost completely absorbed into the aromatics.
- Build and simmer the mushroom ragu: Add the porcini-infused stock from Step 3 to the pot, along with the grated parmesan. Stir to combine. Bring the ragu to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer 5-7 minutes, until thickened slightly. Stir in the heavy cream and the browned mushrooms from Step 1. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.
- Finish the wild mushroom ragu pasta: Add the cooked pasta to the pot with the wild mushroom ragu sauce, tossing to coat. The wild mushroom ragu should evenly coat the pasta. Add in some of the reserved pasta water if the ragu needs to loosen up a little; add in an extra handful of parmesan if it needs to tighten up a little. Cook over medium heat for 1-2 minutes, allowing the pasta to meld with and absorb some of the wild mushroom ragu.
- Serve: Portion the wild mushroom ragu pasta into individual pasta bowls, topping with additional grated parmesan and chopped fresh herbs as desired. For an extra-luxe finishing touch, I like to finish each bowl with the lightest drizzle of black truffle oil. Serve immediately. Enjoy!
- Ingredient Notes:
- Best mushrooms for mushroom ragu: I like to make wild mushroom ragu using 2 types of fresh mushrooms – I like to splurge for really beautiful wild mushrooms – maitake (pictured), oyster, chanterelle, and shiitake are all great – but then balance them out with more cost-effective mushrooms like simple white button mushrooms or cremini (baby bella) mushrooms (pictured). Use what you love most or what’s most readily available to you.
- Porcini mushrooms are an Italian mushroom with an especially rich and deep umami flavor. Dried porcini mushrooms are cost-effective and typically more readily available throughout the year here in the States. Look for them in the bulk section or sold in 1-ounce packages at grocery stores or natural food stores that stock dried mushrooms. You can also easily purchase dried porcini mushrooms online.
- Dry vermouth: Originating in France, dry vermouth is a fortified wine infused with herbs and botanicals. Since dry vermouth is more boldly flavored than the average cooking wine, it adds an extra punch of aromatic goodness to whatever you’re cooking. If you don’t keep dry vermouth on hand, feel free to swap it out in this wild mushroom recipe with an equal amount of dry white wine, dry sherry, or dry marsala.
- Vegetarian and/or vegan mushroom ragu: This wild mushroom ragu recipe is naturally meatless. For a vegetarian version, omit the parmesan or use your favorite rennet-free parmesan. To take it a step further and make it vegan, opt for your favorite non-dairy parmesan and omit the heavy cream or use your favorite non-dairy substitute.
- Make-Ahead, Storage and Reheating Instructions:
- Make-Ahead: Mushroom ragu sauce stores incredibly well – it’s the type of thing that gets even better as it sits and its flavors have the chance to meld together. To store, prep the sauce through Step 6 of Recipe Directions, above. Once cooled, transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for 4-5 days. Whip up a batch of mushroom ragu pasta during the week by reheating the wild mushroom ragu sauce in a skillet, and completing the recipe according to Steps 4 + 7-8, above.
- Storage and Reheating: Leftover mushroom ragu pasta will keep, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, for up to 4 days. Reheat on the stovetop or in the microwave, adding an extra splash of water or cooking stock to loosen up the ragu sauce as needed, until warmed through.
- 15-Minute Meal Prep: Nearly all of the active prep work for this mushroom ragu recipe comes from prepping the veggies. Slice and dice in advance to get a head start on your mushroom ragu – it takes 15 minutes, tops:
- Dice 1 medium yellow onion and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. (<5 minutes active prep)
- Clean, trim and prep the mushrooms as indicated in the Ingredients List, above. Place them in a paper towel-lined bowl and store in the main compartment of your refrigerator for up to 5 days. (10 minutes active prep)
Recipe and Food Styling by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Rachel Cook, Half Acre House.