Paola Bacchia's Mushroom & Red Pepper Goulash

"In his book about the food of Fiume/Rijeka, Francesco Gottardi dedicates an entire chapter to goulash (gulyas, as he calls it). Goulash is traditionally a soupy beef stew, flavoured with paprika, and Hungarian in origin. The Austro–Hungarian empire stretched across large parts of Europe in the 1700s and 1800s, with many towns adopting their own variations of this hearty dish. In Austria, cumin and marjoram were added; along the north-eastern coast of Italy, small quantities of tomato were added; and then in more recent times, red capsicum (bell pepper) was added. Gottardi describes goulash variants, including a rather delicious vegetarian one made with mushrooms and red capsicum. He adds a generous amount of cream, to make a silky and deliciously smoky stew, though I often leave it out, so my vegan friends can enjoy the dish."

This recipe is extracted from Istria by Paola Bacchia (Smith Street Books)

Ingredients for the Goulash

  • 15 g (1/2 oz) dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 kg (2 lb 3 oz) field, flat or Swiss Brown mushrooms (or a mix)
  • 80 ml (1/3 cup) extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large brown onion, finely diced
  • sea salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 red capsicums (bell peppers), cut into thin strips
  • 125 ml (1/2 cup) dry white wine
  • 125 ml (1/2 cup) tomato passata (puréed tomatoes)
  • 11/2 teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 1/2 scant teaspoon smoked hot paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoons good-quality red wine vinegar
  • 200 ml (7 fl oz) pouring (single/light) cream (optional)
  • fresh thyme or parsley leaves, to serve

Method for the Goulash 

  1. Soak the dried mushrooms in about 150 ml (5 fl oz) hot (not boiling) water for at least 15 minutes, to soften them. Drain, reserving the liquid, and chop the rehydrated mushrooms into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.

  2. Trim the mushroom stalks, then wipe the tops clean with a clean tea towel. Cut into slices about 7–8 mm (1/3 in) thick. Set aside.
  3. Place the olive oil in a large flameproof casserole dish over medium heat. Add the onion with a pinch of salt and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, so the onion does not take on too much colour. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, then add the fresh mushroom, rehydrated porcini and the capsicum. Allow to warm through, stirring occasionally.
  4. Increase the heat and add the wine. Allow the wine to evaporate a little, then reduce the heat and stir in the passata. Mix the spices and thyme into the reserved porcini stock (warm it up if it has cooled down) until well combined, then add that too. Season with salt to taste.
  5. Cover and cook over medium–low heat for 10 minutes. Remove the lid and cook for another 10 minutes, or until the vegetables have cooked through, stirring occasionally. If serving this as a vegan dish, then don’t let all of the liquid evaporate, to retain some of the sauciness. If adding cream, cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir in the vinegar and season to taste with salt.
  6. Add the cream (if using) just before serving, stirring so it is evenly mixed through the vegetables.
  7. Scatter over some fresh thyme or parsley and serve warm, with polenta or mashed potatoes.
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