Mushroom Polenta as a Lesson in Time Management

I haven’t been posting a whole lot lately.  You know this, I know this, I’m sure whatever government agency monitoring our computers knows this.  And I apologize.  I’ve been very busy lately…well, I thought I was very busy.  Really I was just making bad choices about my priorities.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been running around like a crazy lady, with capoeira, volunteering, starting my business, working, meeting friends and of course spending time with my boo.  Oh and laundry.  Lots of laundry.  But the truth is, in my down time (scarce as it is) I’ve just been sitting on my butt, watching reruns of Food Network shows online and eating WAY too many brownies.  So now it’s back to blogging, meditating, crafting…the good stuff.  More good stuff.

Anywho. Who remember’s Stick Stickly from Nickelodeon?  If you do, you know why I ask.

ANYWHO.  What better way to teach a lesson in time management than baked polenta?  There are several steps and (literally) several pots on the stove, but it’s not as hard as it looks.  And it’s oh so rewarding!  I’ve adapted this recipe for mushroom polenta from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, that lovely book I got for Christmas.  I changed up a few things – adding veggies, changing the cheese, pairing it with a spicy cream tomato sauce – but as we know, recipes are just jumping off points, right?  Right!  Especially with something as versatile as polenta.

Mushroom Polenta with Spicy Cream Tomato Sauce

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 3 cups water or low-sodium vegetable stock
  • 6-8 crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 portobello mushroom, sliced
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • optional: handful of baby spinach (or whatever green you want to put in)
  • splash each low-sodium vegetable stock and red wine
  • 3/4 cup grated smoked provolone or mozzarella
  • 1 28-ounce can low-sodium crushed tomatoes
  • 1-2 tablespoons cream
  • olive oil
  • dried basil and thyme to taste
  • paprika, chili powder and red pepper flakes to taste
  • salt and pepper

This is one of those recipes where you want your mise en place to actually be in place – you’ll have to sautee the veggies, cook the polenta, make the sauce and then bake the finished product.  I’d start by at least cleaning and prepping your mushrooms, plus chopping your onions and garlic.  Remember to remove the gills of your portobello with a spoon!

Then you can start by adding half your onions and garlic to a large sautee pan with some olive oil.  When the onions begin to turn soft and translucent, add your mushrooms, plus a splash of vegetable stock and red wine to help them cook down.  Continue to sautee the vegetables until the mushrooms begin to soften, then add some salt, pepper, basil and thyme to taste (I tend to go a little heavier on the basil).

Toss in some spinach or other green if you want to (or, as I did, some baby romaine I needed to use up – weird, I know, but I’d rather not let it go to waste and I’m one of those weird people who doesn’t mind wilted greens).  Keep turning everything until the greens begin to wilt and the mushrooms and onions are cooked through, then remove from heat and set aside.

While your onions and mushrooms are cooking you can start the polenta by bringing your 3 cups of water or veggie stock to a boil in a large pot.  When it begins to boil, slowly pour in your cornmeal while stirring with a whisk to prevent clumps.  Reduce the heat and simmer the cornmeal uncovered for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently – be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan so the polenta doesn’t scorch!  Add in a generous pinch of salt, plus some pepper, paprika and maybe a dash of chili powder if that’s your fancy.  When the polenta is thick and the water is absorbed, pour it into a greased 9-inch glass pie dish.

Oh!  Did I mention you should also be making your tomato sauce?  If you want, you can move the mushroom topping mix into a bowl and reuse your sautee pan.  Just add some olive oil and sautee about another quarter of your onion with a couple more cloves of garlic.  When they begin to get soft and translucent, add in your can of crushed tomatoes and season with salt and pepper, plus a good dash of paprika, basil, chili powder and a generous sprinkling of crushed red pepper flakes.  Adjust all the seasonings according to how spicy you like things – I like em spicy!  Heck, throw in some oregano if you want.  Simmer the sauce on low heat to marry the flavors and cook off some of the liquid; after about 5-10 minutes, remove the pan from the heat and stir in a tablespoon or so of heavy cream.  Be conservative here – a little cream will go a long way, so add a little bit at a time until it’s to your liking.  Then top your polenta with a thin layer of the sauce.

Next, top the polenta with about half your cheese, then the mushroom mixture, then the rest of your cheese.  Add another sprinkling of pepper if you want, then pop it in the oven at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes.  Hit the broiler for a few minutes more, and when the top looks brown and bubbly take it out.  Let it cool a bit, then serve in slices topped with more sauce and a fresh green salad.  I know it’s a lot of juggling, but trust me, you’ll get the hang of it.  Show that mise en place who’s boss!

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