Adapted from A New Way to Cook by Sally Schneider, (Artisan 2001).
This ragù, which has the earthy rusticity of a rich veal stew, illustrates the extraordinary meatiness - both in flavor and texture - of wild mushrooms. It is so versatile, I make up double or triple batches and freeze it. Then, when I am feeling lazy, I just toss it with some perciatelle or ravioli or spoon it over polenta for an instant supper.
Figure on 1 cup Wild Mushroom Ragù per serving of tossed pastas and polenta, 3/4 cup per serving for baked and layered pastas.
About 4 cups
Pour the boiling water over the dried mushrooms and tomatoes in a small bowl, cover, and set aside to soak until softened, at least 15 minutes.
Wipe the fresh mushrooms clean with a damp paper towel. Trim off the tough stems and discard. If you are using portobellos, cut out the black gills and discard. Cut large mushrooms into 1/4-inch-thick slices through the stem; leave smaller ones (under 1 inch) whole.
In a medium saucepan, combine the olive oil, onions, and garlic, cover, and cook over medium heat until the onions begin to wilt, about 5 minutes. Uncover and sauté until they are just beginning to brown, about 2 minutes.
Meanwhile, scoop the dried mushrooms and tomatoes into a strainer, reserving the soaking liquid. Rinse them under cool water to remove any grit and press them with the back of a spoon to squeeze out the water. Coarsely chop them and set aside.
Carefully spoon about 3/4 cup of the soaking liquid into the saucepan with the onions, leaving behind any grit. Add the red wine and thyme and boil for 1 minute. Add the fresh mushrooms and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the canned tomatoes and their juices, the chopped dried mushrooms and tomatoes, the sugar, and salt. Partially cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are tender and the ragù is thick, about 15 minutes. Pepper generously.
You can prepare the ragù up to 3 days ahead; cover and refrigerate. Or freeze for up to 2 months.