Polenta is a staple food in northern Italy; it was once known only to peasants but has become very popular among upscale chefs in the past few decades.
Similar to grits, it consists of coarse, medium or finely ground cornmeal which is cooked in stock or water, occasionally with other flavorful additions such as onions or cheese.
It is often served plain, as a side dish, but can also be dressed up with a savory sauce and served as the main course.
In this recipe, the cooked polenta is chilled and then sliced and cooked in butter until crisp.
The creamy, golden slices are served with a luscious sauce made with wild mushrooms, tomatoes, wine and herbs.
This is comfort food with an elegant touch!
Polenta with Mushroom Ragout
Roasted Butternut Squash with Balsamic-Molasses Glaze
Green Salad with Pear Vinaigrette
for the polenta...
4 cups vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup polenta
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
for the mushroom ragout...
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small shallots, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound mixed wild mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
8 ounces white or button mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
2 medium plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup vegetable stock
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
To make the polenta, line a 9X5-inch loaf pan with aluminum foil and brush with a bit of oil.
Bring the vegetable stock and salt to a boil in a saucepan over high heat.
Slowly whisk in the polenta and reduce the heat to medium-low.
Cook, whisking often, for about 15 minutes.
Add in the parmesan cheese and whisk until the cheese has melted.
Pour the polenta into the loaf pan.
Allow to cool a bit and then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6 hours to overnight.
To prepare the mushroom ragout, heat the olive oil over medium-high in a large saucepan.
Add the shallots and cook, stirring often, until softened (about 2 minutes.)
Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until their liquid begins to evaporate (about 8 minutes.)
Add the tomatoes and wine, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil.
Cook until the liquid has evaporated.
Reduce the heat to low and stir in the vegetable stock.
Add the thyme or rosemary, parsley and salt and pepper to taste.
Cover and keep warm over very low heat.
Unmold the chilled polenta onto a clean cutting board.
Cut into 3/4-inch thick slices.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter or olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
Add as many polenta slices to the skillet as it will hold and cook until slightly crisp at the edges and heated through (about 5 minutes per side.)
Repeat with the remaining slices, adding more butter or oil to the skillet as needed (keep the fried slices in a warm oven while you cook the rest.)
Serve the polenta slices warm with mushroom ragout on top.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
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Polenta is such a versatile dish.
You can serve it straight from the pot as a creamy side dish (I love it this way topped with a simple marinara sauce) or you can cook it, chill it, slice it and then cook the slices in butter until crisp as in this recipe.
Other cooking options for sliced polenta include broiling and grilling - both work perfectly well with this mushroom sauce.
I love having leftover polenta because you can top it with nearly anything for a fantastic meal in minutes.
I particularly enjoy it for breakfast, crisped in butter and topped with maple syrup!