Polenta with Mushrooms

In my humble opinion, better than mashed potatoes.
TIME 1½ hours
MAKES 4 servings
½ cup dried porcini mushrooms (about ½ ounce)
2 cups boiling water
¼ cup olive oil
1 pound fresh button or cremini mushrooms, sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup red wine
1 tablespoon minced garlic
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
1 cup medium or coarse polenta
½ cup milk, preferably whole
1 tablespoon butter
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 Put the dried mushrooms in a medium bowl and pour in the boiling water. Press them down into the water now and then until they are soft, anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes depending on how dry they were. When it’s time to cook with them, lift them out of the water with your hands or a slotted spoon and chop them roughly. Reserve the soaking water.

2 Put the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the soaked dried and fresh mushrooms and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are tender and have released all their liquid, 10 to 15 minutes.

3 Add the wine and let it bubble away for 1 minute, then stir in the garlic, ¼ cup of the parsley, and 1 cup of the reserved soaking water. Cook until the liquid thickens a bit, another 2 or 3 minutes, then taste, adjust the seasoning, and turn off the heat under the skillet.

4 Put the polenta in a medium pot with 1 cup water and whisk to form a smooth slurry. Whisk in the milk and a large pinch of salt and set the pot over medium-high heat. Heat until the mixture boils, then lower the heat to medium and cook, whisking frequently and adding more water a little at a time to prevent lumps and keep the mixture somewhat soupy. Expect to add another 2½ to 3½ cups of water before the polenta is ready. The polenta will be done in 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the grind. It will be thick and creamy, with just a little grittiness, and the mixture will pull away from the sides of the pan when you stir. When the polenta is done, turn the heat under the mushrooms to medium to warm them quickly.

5 Stir the butter and cheese into the polenta, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve the polenta topped with the mushrooms and garnished with the remaining ¼ cup parsley.

  • Use grits instead of polenta. But not the quick-cooking or instant kind.
  • 5 Other Toppings

1 Tomato Sauce and variations
2 Fried Eggs
3 Boiled Greens with a drizzle of olive oil
4 Caramelized Onions
5 Quick Skillet Beans with Tomatoes

  • Polenta is a type of cornmeal; most kinds available now are medium or fine grind, which doesn’t pull away from the pot as noticeably as coarse grind and has a smoother texture. Avoid using instant polenta or the cornmeal ground for baking, and taste frequently to check doneness.
  • Like risotto, polenta requires some attention; you don’t have to whisk constantly, but don’t leave the stove unattended for more than a minute or two.

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