This recipe is based on one served to me at a long-ago holiday meal cooked by Seymour Sokatch, a dear family friend. It presents a great opportunity to use imported Italian dried porcini mushrooms, but I made it with a tub of the inexpensive dried mushrooms (brandname: Kirsch) found near canned mushrooms in the supermarket, and it was still delicious.
1 ounce dried mushrooms
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, chopped (about 3 cups)
4 cloves garlic, chopped
12 ounces fresh wild mushrooms (cremini, baby bella, shiitake), thinly sliced (about 4 cups), divided in half
2 tablespoons matzo cake meal (to thicken the sauce, optional)
1 (4- to 5-pound) pot roast
2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Rinse dried mushrooms in cold water to remove any dirt. Place in a heat-proof vessel and pour 1 1/2 cups of boiling water over them. Soak for 15 minutes, or until they start to soften. Remove mushrooms from liquid, squeezing them to release as much liquid as possible, then chop. Strain liquid through a fine-mesh sieve to catch remaining grit.
2. Pour a thin layer of oil in the bottom of a large saute pan over medium-high heat, add onions and a big pinch of salt. Cover pan and cook until onions give up most of their moisture, about 10 minutes, then uncover and, stirring occasionally, saute onions until they are golden-brown, about 15 minutes. Add garlic and saute a few moments longer. Add dried mushrooms, half of the fresh mushrooms and the mushroom-soaking liquid and bring mixture to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. (Optional: sprinkle the matzo meal into the pan and stir to mix well.)
3. Season roast all over with salt and pepper. Place in a roasting pan just large enough to hold it (fat side up if it is a brisket). Pour contents of saute pan over meat. Nestle sprigs of thyme around the meat. Cover tightly with heavy-duty foil or a tight-fitting lid and bake for 15 minutes, then turn oven down to 300 degrees and continue cooking until a metal skewer can be easily plunged into the thickest part of the roast, 3 to 4 hours for a brisket, up to 5 hours for a thicker roast. You want the liquid in the pan to simmer as slowly as possible with just the occasional bubble.
4. Remove cooked roast to a platter or cutting board and let rest until it is only warm to the touch, about 30 minutes. Scrape sauce into a saucepan, add remaining fresh mushrooms and, over medium-high heat, reduce until slightly thickened. Slice the meat across the grain and place in a smaller baking pan (it will have shrunk substantially). Pour reduced sauce over and around the sliced meat. At this point, pan can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days.
5. To serve, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover pan with foil or lid, and bake until mushrooms are tender and brisket is heated through, about 30 minutes, 40 if brisket has been refrigerated. Makes 8 servings.