Thursday, February 21, 2013

Mushroom And Herb Polenta

I can't help but mention again what a treat it is to shop at the farmer's market here in Santa Monica each Wednesday and yesterday was no exception.  Do you have a farmer's market that you frequent? Here, I can't say the prices are often less than at the grocery store but the produce is far fresher and, of course, local. I also find items at the farmer's market that I cannot find elsewhere. 

Yesterday, in addition to picking up a bevy of fresh, organic everyday produce items, my friend and I made a beeline to the mushroom stall. Here I picked up a variety of mushrooms with this Mushroom And Herb Polenta dish in mind.  I grabbed a handful of chanterelles, baby shiitakes and miyakes. Then at the very end of the table I spied a closed bin, read the sign and suddenly my dream came true - inside were black truffles from Oregon.  I had read with excitement recently that truffles were being cultivated domestically in Oregon, but I had never come across them until yesterday. So I picked up this little jewel, which will be shaved over a fluffy scramble of farm fresh, sprout fed, Omega 3 brown eggs. I was told this may be the last of the harvest, so this nugget of loveliness will be relished bite by bite this weekend. If you live on the West Coast, perhaps you have tried these before.

The other great success was securing a bunch of squash blossoms. Typically, the local chefs come as soon as the market opens and buy them all.  I was thrilled to have access to inventory this time. If you have never had squash blossoms, there are several ways to prepare them.  On the Italian front, they can be stuffed with cheese and then battered and fried. On the Mexican front, they can be sauted and used as a base for vegetarian tacos or quesadillas. I will be using them as a pizza topping and will share that recipe in a few days. Aren't they pretty?

So back to the Mushroom And Herb Polenta recipe. Until now I had never made a dish with polenta and the root cause was intimidation. Now I know that is silly because working with quick-cooking polenta is a breeze. But I always associated polenta with my Grandmother's signature dish.  It is a mouth watering Hungarian casserole made of corn meal and cheese and aptly named "mush". It takes a strong arm, a special spoon and an unexplainible technique to create the lump-free, stiff-but-creamy, polenta-like base. I cannot get the hang of it. But now I know that working with corn meal as she did and working with "instant" polenta as I have done here should not be thought of in the same vein. What I was able to create, and you can too, is a phenomenal dish consisting of a base of moist polenta spiked with a chorus of herbs, topped with aromatic, sweet Taleggio cheese and then dressed with fresh, beautifully pungent mushrooms.  

This dish is easy, easy and tastes like something you would get in a small restaurant off the beaten path in Italy - a gathering place that only the locals know about.

Mushroom And Herb Polenta

4 T olive oil
4 c mixed mushrooms, very large ones halved
2 garlic cloves crushed
1 T chopped fresh tarragon
1 T chopped fresh thyme
1 T truffle oil
salt and freshly ground back pepper
2 c + 1/4 c vegetable stock
1/2 c polenta {quick cooking}
3 oz grated Parmesan
2 T + 1/2 T butter
1 t finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 T chopped fresh chervil
4 oz Taleggio cheese, rind removed, cut into cubes

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.  When hot, add half the mushrooms and saute for a few minutes until just cooked, stirring only a few times so they start to brown. 

Remove mushrooms from the pan and repeat with the remaining olive oil and mushrooms. Remove from heat, return all the mushrooms to the pan and stir in the garlic, tarragon, thyme, truffle oil and some salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a sauce pan bring the stock to a boil. Slowly stir in the polenta with a wooden spoon, then reduce the heat to medium and stir constantly for just a few minutes. The polenta is ready when it leaves the sides of the pan but is still runny. 

Preheat the broiler.  When the polenta is ready, stir in the Parmesan, butter, rosemary, and half the chervil. Season with salt and pepper.

Spread the polenta over a broiler proof dish and top with Taleggio. {I used a 9"by 15" oval dish}.

Place under the broiler until the cheese bubbles.  Remove and top with mushrooms and their juices and return to the broiler for a minute to warm up. Serve hot, garnished with remaining chervil.

Plenty Ottolenghi Mushroom And Herb Polenta Recipe

Serves 2.  {We thought 4 but Yotam was right - we polished it all off.}

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Source:  Plenty, Yotam Ottolenghi

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