JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Polenta with mushrooms

Here's something cheap and easy to make ... you just have to get organised and start early - but that's good for calming the household, especially the cook. This is peasant food made with ingredients with a long shelf life, so once you've got them in, you're not too far away from a delicious meal. Carnivores don't feel deprived (not even my rampant meat-eaters); if you were economising, or making this for vegans, I think you could flavour the polenta with sage or rosemary rather than parmesan.

I wish I had a photograph to show you, but ... I did have one problem with the polenta: when I grilled the slices, they stuck to the grill, rather than making photogenic black stripes. Was that because this is a very lightly set mixture (much less cornmeal to water than instructed by the packet)? The grill was certainly smoking hot, and would have made stripes on a piece of meat or fish? Any advice in this matter would be greatly appreciated.

The sauce was originally conceived with fresh mushrooms, but when I went to fetch them from my veg box, I found that the little box which I thought contained mushrooms was in fact full of lovely sweet grapes. So I used dried mushrooms instead. It meant that, instead of making the entire sauce in the morning, I only got as far as sweating the onions and soaking the mushrooms. But finishing the dish only took about 10 minutes.

enough for 4, with leftovers

140g quick-cook polenta
75g parmesan
salt and pepper

Bring 1.5 litres of water to the boil in a large pan. Take it off the heat and swirl it with a wooden spoon, then slowly pour in the cornmeal, swirling all the while. Once it's smooth, put it back on the heat - gently, but even so it will bubble and spit at you (I don't generally bother to wear an apron, but for this it's not a bad idea). After about 4-5 minutes it should be thick and creamy. Add the grated parmesan (I blitzed it in the food processor, as it doesn't matter what it looks like), plenty of salt and some pepper.

Oil a large shallow dish, and pour the mixture onto it to cool. You can't do the next step until it's completely cold, so this needs to be done ahead - in the morning for supper, one evening for the following day. It's the sort of straightforward task that can be carried out alongside other cooking, and so easy to fit into a busy life.

When you are ready, cut the polenta into shapes: rounds, fingers, triangles, diamonds. Heat a grill pan if you have one, brush it with a little oil, cook the polenta for 4-5 minutes each side. If you are luckier than me, you will get black stripes. You don't need a grill to cook these: I heated some perfectly satisfactorily in a non-stick frying pan lightly sprayed with olive oil.

I've just heated up the trimmings and spread them out onto a plate; we'll have them for lunch tomorrow. And I gave some to the cats, as they were longing to try it!

Mushroom sauce

onions, one per person
dried mushrooms, a handful per person
pepper and nutmeg
a little wine if you have it

Soak a couple of handfuls of dried mushrooms in boiling water. Recipe books say 10 minutes is enough, but I find the longer you soak them the better they are: best of all if you soak them until the water is completely cold (in other words, start in the morning if you're cooking in the evening; but it's the work of moments).

Finely chop the onions. I made rings, because they are so pretty, but any shape will do. Sweat them slowly in a little oil. (You can stop at this point if you like.) Add a little white flour, I used less than a dessertspoonful for 3 onions and two handfuls of mushrooms (you want a sauce which has some body, not too runny, but not stiff). Mix well. Season with pepper and nutmeg. Drain the mushrooms (reserving the water) and add them to the pan. Stir around for a bit, then add some wine if you have it, red for preference. If you don't, no worries, just start adding the soaking water. Either way, add enough water to make a loose sauce. Simmer for 5-10 minutes until the flour is cooked through.

Serve with polenta on the side, on hot plates if you remember.

And this is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging , started by Kalyn at Kalyn's Kitchen, and hosted this weekend by Ulrike, of Kuchenlatein


David Hall said...

Cripy polenta, mushrooms, my word! I love polenta. As you say, perfect classy store cupboard ingredient for whipping up a delicious meal.


Chris said...

I love polenta! I made dinner with the pre-made polenta last night! I will have to try this mushroom sauce. Deelish!

Ed Bruske said...

Greqt idea for a winter meal, Joanna. But I don't think I'd even bother hardening up the polenta and grilling it. A nice bowl of steaming polenta with sauce and mushrooms--I can hardly think of anything better for a cold night in February.