Polenta can be served creamy, or shaped and baked with crispy, golden edges. It is a blank canvas awaiting to be seasoned and topped with, well, most anything. In Italy it is a staple food. Versatile and easy it is to make, it may become part of your repertoire. Quick cooking polenta is ready in a matter of minutes. Long cooking, a relative term, takes about 20. There is little distinguishable textural difference between the two. What makes a difference is the texture of the cornmeal itself. Cornmeal can be a finely ground four to a course, granular grind. I do a blend of fine and coarse cornmeal to have a more rustic texture. Note that the finer the grain (flour is too fine usually) the quicker the cooking time. The quick cooking type tends to be smoother.

Dish or Corn Mush?

Lots of info and much debate. All agree that “Polenta” is made from cornmeal that is either slow-cooked or quick-cooking. Served either in a porridge-like consistency or baked with crispy edges, I can go either way with it. Some claim that the “dish” is called Polenta and others that the mushy cornmeal is polenta. Whichever side of the debate you fall on, when one says “POLENTA,” it means moistened cornmeal topped with something scrumptious.

Cooled, Cut, Crispy

To bake polenta, there are several ways to go about it. After cooking the polenta on the stove, with water, it can be spread in a lightly oiled sheet pan or baking dish. As it cools it will congeal allowing it to be cut into squares, rounds, or whatever shape you’d like. Place the cut polenta on an oiled or parchment lined baking sheet, coat lightly with olive oil and bake at 350°F/175°C for 20-25 minutes until the edges start to brown.

Simple Toppers for Polenta

If you think of Polenta as a base upon which to build, then it is much like pasta. Cheese can be added to it, and at that pretty much anything that will melt in is perfect. Seasonings can run the gamut from charred onions to roasted garlic, herbs fresh or dried or just a bit of butter and salt. Tomato sauce spicy or not with a sprinkle if grated parmesan is a perfect quick dinner with a salad on the side (or not). And of course mushrooms that we used in this recipe. A note on Mushrooms and Water Content is below.

Polenta Toppers

Garlic Scape Pesto from Bleuberet
Chive & Tomato Salad from Bleuberet

Mushrooms and Water Content

Polenta & Mushrooms 2

For anyone that cooks with fresh (or frozen) mushrooms, you know that mushrooms are mostly water. My grandmother firmly believed that a mushroom must be wiped with a cloth to remove the dirt and never, ever, ever cleansed with water. I followed suit until I got lazy. Mushrooms will get a little slimy when run under water, but, sorry Oma, it has been scientifically proven that mushrooms do not absorb enough water from rinsing to cause them to become watery.

What makes mushrooms exude copious amounts of water is that they are comprised of a high water content in the first place. So, depending on what you are cooking, will determine how much water you cook out during the prep phase of your recipe. For this recipe, I did not want additional water from the mushroom to cook into the Polenta, so they were cooked down from what was a rather full pan to what is seen in the photo above.

DUXELLES

Duxelles is a blend of mushrooms, shallots and butter that is finely chopped and then cooked to an almost dry texture. It is highly intensified in mushroom flavor, and as the water is almost entirely cooked out, does not loosen when it is cooked. Considered to be one of the staples of Haute Cuisine, I highly recommend trying it and having it in your repertoire. Very easy to make, just requires some time.

My suggestion is to use a non-stick pan and spend a half an hour in the kitchen making this. Use it as a sauce with a little wine added to serve over grilled steak or top a baked potato with a sprinkle of sea salt. Making a traditional Beef Wellington? Typically the recipe calls for a paste of liver between the flaky dough and the tenderloin. Change it up with a layer of Duxelles between the dough and meat, your eaters will be even more impressed with the fact that you made it in the first place.

Duxelles by Arlene Jacobs from Fine Cooking
Beef Wellington by Gordon Ramsay from Gordon Ramsay

Additional Polenta recipes to try:

Easy Baked Polenta by Dianna Rattray from The Spruce Eats
Caramelized Shallot & Fig Polenta Pizzas w/ Thyme & Pine Nuts by Kristy from Keep It Kind
Quick Weeknight Dinners: Hot Sausage & Tomatoes Over Fried Polenta by Julie Ruble from Willow Bird Baking

Polenta & Mushrooms

Serves: 4-6
Prep Time: 10 min Cooking Time: 10 min

Ingredients

  • 8oz/250g quick cooking polenta
  • 32 floz/1L water or broth
  • 4oz/125g sliced mushrooms
  • 4 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 oz/30g grated Parmesan and/or Romano cheese
  • fresh chives, cut into .5"/1.25mm pieces

Instructions

1

Bring water or broth to a boil.

2

Sprinkle in the polenta and stir continuously with a wihisk to break up lumps that may form.

3

Cook for about 5-6 minutes until the cornmeal has absorbed the water and thickens.

4

When the polenta has thickened, remove from heat and place a lid on top of the pot. It will continue to thicken a bit as it sits.

5

In a separate pan, that will ultimately be big enough to hold the polenta and the mushrooms, heat the olive oil.

6

Add the sliced mushrooms and cook until soft and most of the water is gone.

7

Add the polenta and mix well. Add a bit of extra olive oil if desired.

8

Mix in the parmesan.

9

Season with salt and pepper to taste..

10

Spoon into individual bowls and top with chopped chives.

Notes

The easiest way to chop chives is to cut them with sissors!

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