For some reason, growing up polenta was one of those foods I thought was gross without even trying it. Yes, I judged a book by its cover so to speak. I was a kid. What can I say? Lucky for little Jess, polenta wasn’t a staple in my household. In fact, it was never cooked. The only time it even came close to sitting on my spoon was at restaurants if my parents happened to order a dish with polenta as an accompaniment.
My aversion to polenta disappeared eventually and my mom even began to serve it in a dish with spicy ground pork. When she did, I gladly ate it liking the texture I thought I would hate. Not until now though, have I considered cooking it myself. Perhaps this sudden polenta kick was inspire by the growing presence of polenta in recipes or my goal to try new ingredients this year. Or perhaps it was the massive amount of cheese that’s acceptable to use with polenta or the farmer’s market bought mushrooms sitting in my fridge.
Regardless, the polenta recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty was calling my name. His recipe includes a laundry list of fresh herbs which I don’t happen to have growing in my apartment and am not willing to spend the money on at the grocery store. So, I skipped the herbs. While I’m sure they would be a lovely addition, the dish certainly did not require them. The mushrooms, which I cooked in butter instead of Ottolenghi’s suggestions of olive oil, were tender but maintained just a touch of firmness. And the polenta. Really, how can you go wrong with carbohydrates and cheese? You can’t. I think we’re all in agreement here. Next up, squares of polenta with mozzarella and chunky tomato sauce.
Cheesy Polenta with Mushrooms
Ottolenghi’s recipe is titled “Mushroom and herb polenta” rightly so. He uses tarragon, thyme, rosemary, and chervil as well as truffle oil. Being a poor recent college graduate living in a tiny apartment, I adapted this recipe for those of us who don’t have the money to spend on fresh herbs at the grocery store or the space to grow them inside. (Although, I might be attempting to grow herbs indoors regardless. I’ll keep you updated.) If you do have these herbs on hand though, use them! Check out his recipe for specific instructions on herb quantities and when to add them.
1 pound mushrooms
4 tablespoons butter or olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 ¼ cups vegetable stock
½ cup polenta (instant or traditional)
3 oz Parmesan, grated
4 oz Taleggio (rind removed) or other similar soft cheeses like Havarti, Muenster, Fontina, Bel
Paese, or Gouda, cut into 3/8 inch slices
Give the mushrooms a very quick rinse, then shake dry. Cut each in half down the stem.
In your largest skillet melt the butter over medium heat. The skillet should be large enough for all the mushrooms to fit in one layer without crowding. If it’s smaller, cook the mushrooms in batches, because if you crowd them, they will steam and turn soggy instead of becoming brown and crisp. (Some people like soggy, softer mushrooms. If you do, crowd those mushrooms away!)
When the foam has subsided from the butter, let the butter continue to cook until it smells nutty and you start to see light brown specks on the bottom. This is a very light brown butter, which will darken further after you add the mushrooms. Add the mushrooms. Let them cook without moving them until their bottoms are deeply golden brown, about 3 minutes. Flip the mushroom and let them cook on their other side until crisp, about 3 minutes longer. Off the heat, add the garlic. Keep warm.
Bring the stock to a boil in a saucepan. Slowly stir in the polenta, then reduce the heat to the minimum and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. The polenta is ready when it leaves the sides of the pan but is still runny. If you are using instant polenta this shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes; with traditional polenta it could take up to 50 minutes (if it seems to dry out add some more stock or water but just enough to keep it at a thick porridge consistency).
Preheat the broiler. When the polenta is ready, stir in the Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper. Spread the polenta over a heatproof dish and top with the Taleggio. Place under the broiler until the cheese bubbles. Remove, top with the mushrooms and their juices, and return to the broiler for a minute to warm up. Serve hot. If there are leftovers, the polenta reheats in the microwave the next day quite nicely.