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Next time you are in the mood for something hearty and simple, but with a little more flair than pasta, give polenta a try.  Like pasta, it is a simple base that takes to any sauce or vegetable you wish to serve it with.  Unlike traditional pasta, polenta is gluten-free.

A lot of folks enjoy polenta served like porridge, but I prefer it crispy – baked or fried until crusty and golden on the outside, but soft on the inside.  Couple it with tender sautéd mushrooms made into a rich, wine-infused ragout, and you have a delightful contrast of taste and texture.

Polenta with Mushroom & Spinach Ragout

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups polenta/coarse corn meal (I use Bob’s Red Mill polenta)
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk (I used almond milk)
  • 5 cups water
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 cups mushrooms,  sliced (I used half white, half cremini)
  • 2 cups fresh spinach
  • 1/2 tbsp dried thyme
  • 3/4 cup white wine
  • 5 large cloves garlic, minced

Preparation:

Grease or place parchment paper on a large baking sheet and set aside.

Place the cornmeal and a salt in a large saucepan. Slowly whisk in the water and milk. Turn on medium-high heat and bring the mixture to a soft boil.   Reduce the heat immediately to low and gently simmer, whisking frequently, until it thickens (10 to 15 minutes).  Consistency should be that of thick oatmeal. Season with black pepper and/or additional salt to taste.

Pour polenta onto previously prepared baking sheet and spread evenly with a spatula, keeping it about 1/2 inch thick.  Brush the top of the polenta lightly with 1 tbsp of the olive oil. Cover the pan with plastic wrap, and refrigerate the polenta for 2 or more hours (even overnight).

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. After at least 2 hours, remove polenta from the refrigerator and cut into 12 squares. Transfer the polenta squares to a plate (or two), and remove the parchment paper from the pan. Wipe any moisture from the pan and return the squares to it.  Brush squares with a little more olive oil and baked until the edges begin to brown – 20-30 minutes.

While polenta squares are baking, heat remaining olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and sprinkle them with the dried thyme, salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are tender, approximately 10 minutes.  Add fresh spinach and cook for 2-3 minutes more, until spinach wilts. Add the wine and simmer for 2-3 minutes – until alcohol has burned off and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Turn the heat to low and add the minced garlic. Cook for 1-2 minutes more.  Adjust seasoning.

Serve mushroom mixture on top of the polenta squares.

I served this with a side of chilled tomato salad, dressed simply with onion, balsamic vinegar, basil and olive oil.

Leftover polenta can be frozen for up to 2 months.  Or top it with pasta sauce, gravy or your favorite sautéed greens.

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