Dinner Deal: Mixed Mushroom Ragu with Cheesy Polenta

We’ve been trying to eat less meat in my house lately. Save some money, keep our cholesterol down, try some new flavors; there are lots of reasons to work a couple of vegetarian meals into your weeknight repertoire. The trick always seems to be in making a dish that’s just as satisfying as that steak or pork chop that we’d otherwise be having.

While this dish isn’t a true ragù (which is an Italian meat-based sauce) the base of mushrooms makes for a flavor so hearty and satisfying that you won’t even miss the meat. Rounded out with some easy creamy polenta, this satisfying Dinner Deal meal is simple enough to serve to the whole family and special enough to save for just the two of you.

Mixed Mushroom Ragu with Cheesy Polenta

Makes 4 servings

For the ragù

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound cremini mushrooms, caps wiped clean, halved

3 portabella mushroom caps, gills scraped out, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated

1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning herbs

Pinch red pepper flakes

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes

Salt and ground black pepper

For the polenta

2 cups milk

1 1/2 cups vegetable, mushroom or chicken stock

1 cup instant polenta

1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Salt and ground black pepper

To prepare the ragù place a large high-sided pan over medium-high heat with the olive oil. Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook, stirring on occasion, until deep golden brown and beginning to soften, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the onion and bell pepper to the pan and cook until they begin to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic, dried herbs and pepper flakes and cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Simmer the ragù, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is thickened and saucy, 8 to 10 minutes.

While the ragù is simmering prepare the polenta. Place a medium pot over medium-high heat with the milk and stock. Bring the liquid up to a boil. Gradually sprinkle the polenta over the liquid while whisking constantly. Simmer the polenta until thickened, about 1 minute. Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the cheese and season with salt and pepper. Reserve warm (the polenta may thicken more as it sits; adjust the consistency as needed with a few splashes of warm water or milk.)

Serve the ragù over the polenta.

NOTE: When first browning the mushrooms, don’t stir them until one side gets deeply golden brown. It’s this initial browning phase that will help to develop a rich flavor base for the rest of the dish.

Looking for more budget meals? Try these:

One-pot broken florentine lasagna 

Rustic beef & tomato stew

Cider braised chicken with peppery escarole

Orzo and zucchini salad

Root vegetable chowder

Patrick W. Decker’s life revolves around food. Always has, probably always will. As a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and past member of the culinary teams for Food Network stars like Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee, Marc Forgione, Bobby Deen and Paula Deen, he now works as a food writer in NYC by day and a recipe developer at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley by night. You can see what he’s up to by following him on Instagram & Twitter at @patrickwdecker or visiting his website at

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