Monday, November 12, 2007

creamy white polenta with mushrooms

creamy white polenta with mushrooms and mascarpone

Because I am a complete and total Yankee, I really didn’t know a thing about grits until Alex and I took a trip to Savannah and Charleston earlier this year. But when I tried them, I fell hard. I found them in a small puddle beneath the most saucy, delicious chicken dish in a large-rimmed shallow bowl, shredded Brussels tangled around them and then the next day loaded with cheese and chives adjacent to my eggs. They seemed to be open and ready for anything put before them–on so many levels, exactly what I needed.

 sauteed wild mushrooms  sauteed wild mushrooms

I swore I’d make my own when I got back, heck, I’d make them daily but somehow that “when” became “eight months later” and that pretty much brings us up to last night. I’d bookmarked Jonathan Waxman’s Creamy White Polenta with Mushrooms and Mascarpone a while ago, but forgot about it until last week’s chicken dish reminded me of how much I like chanterelles.

This dish, although seemingly fussy, was incredibly easy to make, but something happened (I mean, beyond that) and I just couldn’t get into eating it. It was too… rich for me. Creamy polenta. Buttery mushrooms. Grated cheese and then a double-cream dollop on top. Sure, we were just eating it with salad for a light dinner but still. It seemed too indulgent for a Sunday night. I prefer contrasts: light against heavy, acidic versus fatty. The lemon juice helped, but not enough for my palette.

Nonetheless, I have a big old tub of grits to use up, so my experimenting is just beginning. If you have a favorite recipe that involves them, especially if savory and not too heavy, I’d love to hear more about it.

 creamy white polenta with mushrooms and mascarpone creamy white polenta with mushrooms and mascarpone

Creamy White Polenta with Mushrooms and Mascarpone
Adapted from Jonathan Waxman, via Gourmet, October 2005

Just because I found this a little rich doesn’t mean it won’t work for you, but you might consider tweaking the ratios at bit. This makes a lot of grits to a relatively small amount of mushrooms. You could halve the grits or double the mushrooms, for example, or of course keep it like so if you want it to look more like the picture.

For polenta
4 1/2 cups water
1 cup coarse stone-ground white grits (preferably organic)
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

For mushrooms
1 pound assorted fresh exotic mushrooms such as porcini, oyster, chanterelle, lobster, and hedgehog
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, smashed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (we used chives)

For serving
1/2 cup mascarpone (though we used crème fraîche, and just a tad)
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Make polenta: Bring water to a simmer in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan. Add grits in a slow stream, whisking until incorporated. Simmer, stirring occasionally with a long-handled whisk or wooden spoon, until liquid is absorbed and polenta is thick and soft, about 30 minutes. (Grits will have a loose, risotto-like consistency.) Remove from heat and stir in cream, cheese, salt, and pepper. Keep warm, covered.

Saute mushrooms while polenta simmers: If using porcini, halve if large, then slice lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices. If using oysters, trim spongy base if necessary and slice caps into 1/2-inch-wide strips. If using chanterelles, leave small mushrooms whole, halve if medium, and quarter if large. If using lobsters, cut into 1/2-inch pieces. If using hedgehogs, trim base of stems and halve caps if large.

Heat oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then saute mushrooms, garlic, salt, and pepper, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are golden and any liquid they give off is evaporated, 6 to 8 minutes.

Add water, butter, lemon juice, and parsley and heat, swirling skillet, until butter melts and liquid forms a sauce.

To serve: Top each serving of polenta with mushrooms and mascarpone. Serve immediately (polenta stiffens as it cools), sprinkled with Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Note: Mushroom sauce can be made 1 hour ahead and kept, covered, at room temperature. Reheat before using.


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