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Marsala wine substitute?

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I'm making a mushroom sauce per the recipe below to try over some fresh manicotti from a local Italian shop. I think it might be nice to preserve the fresh taste of the manicotti and the fresh ricotta filling, rather than the traditional tomato based sauce. However, the recipe calls for a cup of dry marsala wine, and I don't want to put any kind of alcohol. I understand that many say the alcohol cooks off but I still don't want to use any. Trust, me, I'm aware the sauce won't be the same, but it could still be excellent I'm sure.

I've done a pretty exhaustive internet search for alternatives, but I'd like to hear opinions given the exact recipe I'm using.

As an aside, I wonder if it would make much difference to use the dried or fresh shiitake that we have both of on hand, rather than the dried porcini. Maybe it would even help with umami.

1) Just leave off the wine or wine substitute entirely.

2) Use balsamic vinegar, possibly reduce it or mix with agave syrup to balance out the sourness.

3) Stew some prunes or figs and strain them for a more full bodied result, possibly adding some balsamic to balance them out a bit.

4) Other suggestions? Apple cider vinegar? Apple cider itself?

I've seen suggestions to reduce grape juice but I'm pretty sure that would be too sweet. This is supposed to be a dry marsala.

I'm leaning toward using something, rather than just the homemade vegetable broth that I have. The easiest to me sounds like possibly making a balsamic reduction.

Here's the recipe. It's rather long, sorry. I can't seem delete the spaces between the ingredients to make it shorter. Whaddya think?

2½ pounds fresh mixed mushrooms, small and firm

½ ounce dried porcini, soaked in 1 1/1 cups warm water

3 sprigs fresh thyme

1 sprig fresh rosemary, a tender stem about 4-inches long

1 sprig fresh sage, with 4 big leaves

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

4 tablespoons butter

1 cup shallots, finely chopped

1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)

½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

⅓ cup tomato paste

1 cup dry Marsala

freshly ground black pepper

4 cups hot turkey or vegetable broth

Prepping the Ingredients

Squeeze out the soaked porcini and slice them into pieces about 1/4-inch wide. Strain the soaking water and keep it in a warm spot.

Clean, trim and slice the fresh mushrooms into moderately thin slices, barely 1/4-inch wide.

Tie all the fresh herb sprigs together with piece of kitchen twine or enclose the leaves in cheesecloth.

Cooking the Sauce

Put the oil and butter in the big skillet (or other saucepan) and place over medium heat. When the butter melts, dump in the onions and shallots and 1/4 teaspoon of salt and stir well. Heat the onions to a slow sizzle and cook for 6 minutes or more-stirring often-until they're soft, wilted and shiny, without any browning.

Pour all the mushrooms into the pan-both the chopped porcini and sliced mushrooms-spread and toss them in the pan. Sprinkle another 1/4 teaspoon salt, drop in the herb bouquet, toss briefly, raise the heat a bit and cover the pan. Cook covered for about 3 minutes-shake the pan now and then- to sweat the mushrooms.

Uncover and continue to cook over fairly high heat, stirring frequently, as the mushrooms shrink and the liquid evaporates, 5 minutes or more. When the pan is dry and the mushrooms begin to brown, clear a hot spot, drop in the tomato paste and toast it, stirring, for a minute or so, then stir it into the mushrooms.

When everything is sizzling and browning again, and just starting to stick, pour the Marsala all over. Stir constantly as the wine thickens and evaporates. When the mushrooms again start sticking to the bottom, pour in the warm mushroom water and 2 cups of the hot stock. Bring to an active boil, stirring up any caramelization on the pan bottom. Lower the heat to keep the sauce bubbling gently all over the surface and cover the pan. Cook for about 20 minutes, occasionally stirring and adding stock to keep the mushrooms nearly covered in liquid; expect to add 1/2 cup or so. Adjust the heat to keep the perking steady but not too rapid.

Uncover the pan and cook for another 20 minutes, maintaining the simmer and adding stock as needed. When mushrooms are thoroughly tender and the saucy liquid thickened-but not too condensed-the sauce is done. Remove the herb bouquet and discard it (after you scrape off all the good sauce). Taste and add salt, if needed, and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Use the sauce immediately or let it cool. Store it in the refrigerator for a week or freeze, for use within several months.

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  1. Just skip it. It will be fine.

    1. "Just leave off the wine or wine substitute entirely"

      Ta Daaaaaaaaa! You answered your own question!!.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Uncle Bob

        LOL OK, but is there some reason a bit of reduced balsamic vinegar would be a bad substitute? It's too easy just skipping, but I sure will if that's bad. Thanks for hte replies.

        1. re: Ianto2000

          You might add a bit of vinegar to add some acid that comes from wine. I would likely use a bit (a tablespoon or so) of wine vinegar (sherry vinegar is typically what I have) along with water or broth to sub for the wine. Balsamic can be pretty sweet, but should work too...

          1. re: firecooked

            Yeah I guess maybe my balsamic idea would be too sweet, that's my fear.

      2. Leave out wine and substitute completely or add beef broth and 3T of butter (sweet cream and salted butter). For thickness add a few tsp of flour or baking powder. This is my favorite, but as for the broth part it depends on what you are cooking. Since your doing pasta chicken stock or more vegetable stock is ideal. There is also sherry extract you can use as a substitute for the Marsala, since u dnt want to use alcohol. There are more extracts that you can use that has that flavoring alcohol is suppose to give your recipe. You will have to do some re-measuring, but this works also. Hope this helps.

        1. like others said I would just leave it out

          oddly I made mushrooms with marsala wine last night -

          The marsala is used to deglaze the pan - the deglazing itself builds the flavor of the sauce as much as the wine does.
          marsala adds to the depth of the dish for sure but sautéed mushrooms will be good anyway - I would increase the stock by the volume of the lost marsala to keep the cooking time in line with the recipe and make sure to use a flavorful stock.

          1. 1/4 cup of white grape juice
            1 tablespoon vanilla extract
            2 tablespoons of sherry vinegar

            Found this with a yahoo search. Can't vouch for it's authenticity.

            1. This recipe is way too involved and complicated and voluminous. Just sauté some chopped shallot in a combination of oil and butter, then sauté the mushrooms (porcini, not shitake), deglaze with a little broth or water and pour over the pasta. To make it richer, add heavy cream to the pan. Don't reduce balsamic. If you use it, use the good stuff and just add a little at the end, off the heat. But you don't need it.

              1. Marsala has a very distinct flavor. IMO, you cannot substitute it. This recipe will probably be fine without it, but it won't have the flavor marsala contributes. If you don't want to use marsala then don't. But its not going to be the same recipe.