To say ‘rich polenta’ is in contrast to polenta’s place in Italian food history. It has traditionally been considered a ‘peasant food,’ serving as an inexpensive (and accessible) filler that can be enhanced by pairing it with small amounts of other foods (ie: rabbit, anchovies, or whatever is available). There are quick and slow cooking varieties available, and if you’ve tried them both, you’ll know that the slow cooking type is generally better and worth the time.
I came across a recipe for ‘Mushroom Ragu on Polenta’ in the Canal House cookbook (volume no.2) and it was a really satisfying meal. The recipe calls for a small amount of sherry, which was an unexpected surprise – not only did I get to learn a bit about a fortified wine I wasn’t very familiar with, it added a wonderful aroma and flavor to the dish and I’ve got the rest of the bottle to add to cups of tea. (side note- I used an Amontillado sherry)
Mushroom Ragu with Polenta
Canal House Cooking, no.2, 2009
For the Polenta-
1 cup slow cooking polenta
2 cups of chicken stock
2 cups of water
1 cup of whole milk
2 Tablespoons of butter
For the Ragu-
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 Tablespoons of butter
1 small onion, chopped
2 pounds mixed wild and/or cultivated mushrooms, cleaned and halved or quartered
Leaves of 4 thyme sprigs
2 Tablespoons of sherry
4 canned whole peeled plum tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 bunch of parsley, leaves chopped
salt & pepper
Start with the polenta. Put the chicken stock, water and milk into a medium, heavy-bottomed pot. Stir in the polenta slowly and add two generous pinches of salt. Bring it to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring often. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is tender, which can take anywhere from 50minutes to an hour and a half. Don’t be dismayed, and don’t underestimate the time it takes to cook polenta (the cornmeal takes a while to soften). It will swell and thicken as it cooks- if it gets too thick, add a bit more water. When it’s ready, stir in the butter and season it with some salt.
For the ragu, heat the olive oil and two Tablespoons of the butter together in a large skillet over medium heat until the butter foams. Add the onions and cook until soft and translucent, which will take about 3-5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften, about three minutes. Add the thyme and sherry (it’ll smell so fantastic!). Add the tomatoes, crushing them with your hand as you drop them into the mushrooms. Add the stock, parsley and remaining two Tablespoons of butter. Simmer over medium-low heat until it is stewy and has thickened a bit, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
To serve, put some of the warm polenta in a bowl (wide and shallow works best) and spoon the mushroom ragu over top. Enjoy it with a bit of the sherry (slightly chilled).