I absolutely adore polenta. How about you? Polenta is a ground cornmeal that can be served hot and creamy, or once it sets, cut into shapes and grilled. This past week, I served it both ways. It all began with a big pot of brasciole that I had simmering on the stove. The sauce was just too inviting and being the chilly day that it was, I decided to prepare an easy lunch for myself. One of my favorite dishes is simply creamy polenta with sauce.A few slices of pecorina and viola! Simple, filling and delicious lunch.
Once the polenta was made, I scooped out what I'd need and with the rest, added a bit of this and a bit of that and poured it all out onto a damp sheet pan spread about 1/2 inch thick. There it sat to cool and shape. I wasn't certain just what I was going to do with this excess, but a friend sent me her Mama's recipe for dolce polenta that really sounded too good not to try.
Well, the dolce never materialized because I forgot I had this wrapped half sheet pan until a couple of days later. I'm kicking myself now for not setting some of it aside to freeze, as polenta freezes beautifully. Instead, I decided to bake it--layering it with assorted mushrooms and loads of cheese. I make this often, but typically with greens--spinach, chards or kale and sometimes even sausage, sort of a vegetable pasticchio, the polenta being substituted for lasagne noodles, and served with a simple salad on the side.
It didn't turn out as formed as any baked polenta I'd made in the past,nor visually appealing but was it ever scrumptious! So if you've never tried making creamy polenta, give it a try--you won't be sorry.
1 1/2 cups fine cornmeal or half fine ground & half coarse meal
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups light cream
1 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
2 TBLS butter
1 cup whole milk
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup grated Pecorino cheese
ground black pepper
herbs of choice * optional
1/4 cup EV Olive oil to drizzle over at the end of the cook
In a large saucepan bring the cream and water to a light boil. Add the salt and ground pepper and then gradually add the cornmeal while stirring with a whisk, whisking vigorously to prevent lumps from forming in the cornmeal. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, stirring constantly. The polenta should be smooth and some large bubbles may pop to the surface, so do be careful. Remove from heat and add butter cheese and milk. Stir very well until all is blended. For this batch I sprinkled in some dry ground rosemary, thyme and summer savory, but this is optional. Just before serving drizzle with olive oil, mix once again and serve plain, or with a ladle of fresh tomato sauce and dig in. Enjoy!
Now if you want to try my baked polenta you should have more than enough creamy polenta now on hand. Pour off approximately 3 cups of finished polenta while it's still hot onto a dampened sheet pan. Spread it all out to a thickness of about 1/2 inch. Allow to set, about an hour. Or you can forget about it like I did :-) Just keep it covered and refrigerated until ready to use.
Baked Polenta,Creamy Mushrooms & Fontina
8 creamy (set up & (firm) polenta squares, cut into 3 inch squares
2 TBLS dried porcini mushrooms
1/2 cup hot water
1/2 lb fresh button mushrooms, sliced
1/2 lb fresh shittake mushrooms, sliced thin
1 TBLS olive oil
2 TBLS unsalted butter
1 medium onion, sliced
1 shallot, minced
3 TBLS white wine
sea salt & white pepper
1/2 cup light cream
1 1/2 cups shredded fontina cheese
1/4 cup grated parmigiano
Combine the dried porcini mushrooms with the hot water in a bowl and allow to sit for an hour until softened completely. Remove the porcini, squeezing out excess water, reserving all the liquid. Roughly chop the mushrooms and set aside.
In a skillet melt the olive oil with butter over medium heat. Add the onions slices and shallot and saute just a few minutes until softened. Add the porcini mushrooms and saute another five minutes or so. Add the rest of the sliced mushrooms and continue to saute until tender, about five minutes. Pour wine over all. Add sea salt and pepper and then add the reserved shitake mushroom liquid. Allow this all to simmer for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Then, stir in the cream and bring to a light simmer. Once it begins to simmer, remove the pan from heat.
Place half the polenta squares in a bottom layer in a lightly oiled casserole dish. Spread half the mushroom sauce over them, then sprinkle with half the blended cheeses. Place the top layer of polenta squares over the cheese. Spoon the remaining mushroom sauce and sprinkle on the remaining cheese. Bake in a 350 degree oven until the cheese is melted and polenta is bubbling. Remove from the oven and allow to settle for about 10 minutes before cutting and serving. Once baked, the polenta, sauce and cheeses fuse into one delicioso dish. Enjoy!