Polenta, mushrooms can rescue cooks in a pinch

The Whole Dish podcast: Polenta can be a lifesaver meal

After a week away, almost everything about home beckons … except the contents of the fridge.

A soured half-gallon of milk, leftovers long past their “consume by” date and some squishy, rubbery, moldy and otherwise inedible items of produce should have been all that awaited our return.

Instead, my mom swooped in to save the day with dinner made just for us mere hours earlier at her home on the coast. Never were meatloaf, Parmesan whipped potatoes and fresh green beans more highly regarded. We ate well on our trip, but this meal tasted of home.

It was the second lifesaver meal that I’d enjoyed this month. My other mother, who lives next door, provided the first on a day when I was almost too spent and foolhardy to just accept and say “thank you.”

My mother-in-law called during my fourth errand of the day that required herding two kids around a big-box store, where I feel like a drill sergeant barking orders to stick close, be quiet and don’t touch anything! I knew that she was making dinner for good friends traveling to escape California wildfires. And while I love this couple’s company, I don’t love monitoring my kids’ table manners, admonishing against whining about the fare and anticipating every spill and drip and dropped utensil.

“I don’t know, Ann. I’m just not sure that I’m up for dinner today,” I said.

“OK. There’s plenty,” she replied. “Let me know if you change your mind.”

Once we’d arrived back home, the kids were busily playing and I was left to consider what to make for dinner, I made an about-face. Ann’s polenta with mushroom ragout, inspired by Lidia Bastianich, was a favorite dish of mine. And who was I kidding? It was likely to be the healthiest thing the kids ate all day. It was begging to be eaten, too, because our friends had changed their travel plans.

“I’m sorry for sounding so rude earlier,” I told her. “We’d be grateful for dinner.”

Drop utensils, drip food and whine the boys did. But Ann kept filling my wineglass and encouraged me to keep filling my plate. The ragout was resplendent in at least a half-dozen types of mushrooms, including a locally foraged and dried mix available at farmers markets.

Fewer fungi make up the following recipe for baked polenta with sautéed mushrooms. But it could be assembled in advance and popped into the oven 20 minutes before dinner on one of those hectic days.

Heck, this dish could come to the rescue when the cupboard is nearly bare. I always have polenta on hand, as well as cheese and mushrooms that can be reconstituted if they’ve languished in the fridge too long. The fairly recent addition of oyster mushrooms to the Food 4 Less produce section also puts this recipe from the Kansas City Star in easier reach.

Tribune News Service photo

Rustic Cheese Baked Polenta With Mushrooms

1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1 cup coarse- or medium-grind cornmeal

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

7 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese, divided

8 ounces button mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced

4 ounces oyster mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced

4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced

Pepper, to taste

3 ounces fontina cheese, shredded (about ¾ cup)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray an 8-inch square baking dish with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring 4 cups water to boil with the salt. Add the cornmeal in a slow, steady stream, whisking continuously. Whisk in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and the thyme. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until mixture is very thick, for about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in 3 tablespoons of the Parmesan cheese.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large, nonstick skillet, over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until liquid boils away and mushrooms are golden. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Place half of polenta mixture into prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan and half of the shredded fontina cheese. Scatter half of mushrooms evenly over all. Continue layering with remaining polenta mixture, Parmesan, fontina and mushrooms.

Bake, uncovered, in preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes until cheese is bubbling and mixture is hot through and beginning to crisp on sides. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 main-dish servings or 10 side-dish servings.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

  • Blog Author

    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
  • Categories

  • Archives