Polenta is one of those dishes that is far too underappreciated. It’s humble stuff, made from nothing more than coarse ground corn. The most basic of foods, it’s both thrifty and filling. It’s also quick and easy to make. If you can hold a spoon and stir, you can make polenta.
Polenta is folk food. It fed both the Native Americans and early European pioneers (they called it corn meal mush or “coosh”), who often enjoyed it with a generous slosh of maple syrup or molasses. When American corn or maize was brought to Europe, it was quickly adopted by the lower economic classes who developed a wide repertoire of tasty dishes based on ground corn. Leave it to poor folk to transform the most basic of foodstuffs into something incredibly delicious – and leave it to the upper classes to take the credit.
Polenta is versatile. Served soft, it’s a great breakfast food, a side dish with just about anything, or even a main course, dressed up with any number of savory toppings. Cooled, it becomes very firm and can be sliced into sticks, squares or triangles and grilled or pan-fried to crispness.
Polenta and mushrooms naturally make a great pairing.
Both are earthy and savory, but their very different textures and flavors make an interesting and appealing contrast.
Why use both dried and fresh mushrooms at a time of year when fresh mushrooms are so plentifully available? It’s simple: dried mushrooms pack an intensity of flavor that fresh mushrooms don’t have. Adding both the reconstituted mushrooms and their flavorful soaking liquid gives the polenta an extra burst of savory mushroom flavor that enhances and intensifies the milder flavor of the fresh mushroom topping.
We also added a fistful of whole cloves of garlic which, after contributing their flavor to the rest of the dish, became soft and sweet with simmering. Encountered here and there thoughout the dish, they made a pleasant and tasty surprise.
As a finishing touch, we drizzled a tiny bit of good quality black truffle oil over the top. A few drops were just enough to bring out every subtle nuance of flavor. If you’re going to go for it, go all the way.
Wild Mushroom Polenta
Using both dried and fresh wild mushrooms adds an amazing intensity of rich mushroom flavor.
- 1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
- 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 ¼ teaspoons salt
- 1 ½ cups yellow coarse ground polenta
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
FOR THE MUSHROOMS:
- 1 pound fresh wild mushrooms, brushed or rinsed clean (substitute cremini or button, if no wild mushrooms are available)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 tablespoons shallots, diced
- 10 – 12 whole garlic cloves, peeled
- 1/4 cup dry sherry
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Earthy Delights Black Truffle Oil for drizzling
Reconstitute the dried porcini mushrooms by placing them in a small bowl and covering them with 2 cups of warm water. Soak for 20 – 30 minutes or until the mushrooms are very soft and pliable. Drain the mushrooms, reserving the soaking liquid. Rinse the mushrooms under cool running water for a few seconds to remove any residual grit. Strain the soaking liquid through a coffee filter or several layers of cheesecloth and set aside. Finely chop the mushrooms and set aside.
To make the polenta, place the 3 cups of stock, 2 cups of mushroom soaking liquid, the chopped reconstituted dried mushrooms and the salt in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Gradually stir in the polenta. Reduce the heat to low so that the polenta is barely simmering and sputtering. Cook, stirring frequently to prevent sticking or scorching, until the polenta is very thick and pulls away from the sides of the pan, 20 to 25 minutes.
Stir in the butter and grated Parmesan cheese until the butter melts and the cheese is completely incorporated. If too thick, stir in a little more stock. Remove from heat, cover and set aside in a warm place.
Slice the mushrooms 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick, preserving their shape as much as possible. Place a large saute pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the whole garlic cloves and diced shallots and cook until slightly browned, 2 – 3 minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms are lightly browned, about 8 – 10 minutes, depending on variety. Add the dry sherry, scraping up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan, and cook until the liquid has reduced by half. Reduce the heat to very low and add the cut up pieces of butter a couple at a time, swirling them in until they are incorporated into the sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper and remove from the heat.
To serve, spoon a generous portion of the polenta onto serving plates or bowls and top with the wild mushrooms. Drizzle with a few drops of truffle oil and serve immediately.
Many of the ingredients used in this recipe, and other recipes on the Earthy Delights Blog, can be purchased online at our retail website, Earthy.com. We welcome you to visit the Earthy.com website to view our extensive selection of hard-to-find ingredients and our complete Recipe Collection of over 500 tested recipes.
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