Polenta with Creamy Mushroom Sauce

IMG_2028The year is still new enough, I suppose, that I can continue to refer to it as new. We’re only about three weeks into it, after all — it’s hardly the old-and-tired year! As part of a new year’s effort to broaden our palettes and also my recipe repertoire, I’ve dubbed every Wednesday night “Vegetarian Night”. This welcome change promises not only to liven things up in the kitchen, but also has the added benefit of building even more vegetables into our regular eating habits. That’s a tall order in the dead of winter when your choices for vegetables are slim!

Don’t get me wrong — we’re not big meat eaters, but meat is typically involved in some way in both our lunch and dinner. I’m certainly not opposed to vegetables or even vegetarian entrées, but the majority of recipes that I’ve come across tend to be centered around a very narrow spectrum of taste/creativity (no offense to the throngs of vegetarian cookbook authors out there whose books are not yet on my shelf).

In the past, the majority of vegetarian recipes I’ve come across are typically some sort of spin on stir-fry or curry (we’re not always in the mood for Asian cuisine). Sometimes the recipes tend to involve some hard-to-find, exotic ingredient or (worse) an embarrassing attempt for a rogue “meat substitute” to pose as something other than what it is. I’m all for tofu (go tofu!). And I’m a big fan of seitan (seitan! woo hoo!). I’ve also enjoyed being introduced to tempeh and gardein at our local vegetarian restaurant, though I don’t feel I know them well enough to cheer on their behalf. Apart from these otherwise innocent though unfamiliar ingredients, what I don’t like about some vegetarian recipes is the shallow attempt at deception. Let’s keep it real!

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In my pursuit of vegetarian recipes that unabashedly “keep it real”, I’ve noticed that my favorites tend to involve minimally processed ingredients and vary in tastes from exotic to down-home. In other words: tofu that’s not ashamed of being tofu and vegetables that aren’t pulverized or gelatinized into some otherworldly form. (If God had wanted soybeans to come in the shape of a chicken…)

Today’s recipe was adapted from the pages of Eating Well Magazine. I chose it because it used uncomplicated ingredients that were more or less in season and it could be prepared in a reasonable amount of time on a busy weeknight.

If you’re not familiar with polenta, you may assume it’s “complicated”. For cooks in the deep south, you probably know it by its other alias: grits. Cooking enthusiasts go back and forth on whether or not there’s a difference between grits and polenta — like a classical musician and a bluegrass musician debating whether a violin and a fiddle are the same instrument (they ARE the same, by the way). Polenta is quite possibly the best example of wholesome, fast food — especially if you can find it in your grocery store already prepared.

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For this recipe, you can either buy your polenta prepared in a 16oz tube sold refrigerated or unrefrigerated, or you can make it yourself using either standard grits or coarsely ground yellow cornmeal:

Basic Polenta
Yields approximately 16oz

    1 3/4 cups water
    1/2 cup grits or coarsely ground cornmeal
    1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)

    Coat an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray, set aside.

    Combine the above ingredients in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat. As the mixture comes to a boil, lower heat and stir constantly to prevent sticking/lumps. If you want to be fancy, you can use a whisk (I won’t tell). Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens dramatically. Pour immediately into prepared baking dish. Allow to cool completely (can be cooled in the refrigerator if you’re pressed for time). Mixture will form a solid when completely cooled. Slice or serve as needed.

Making your own, in this way, enables you to slice the polenta into squares, cubes, or “fingers” to create your own unique presentation for this recipe or countless others. The cooled and sliced polenta can be baked with toppings or even sautéed. Whaddya know? Grits ain’t just for breakfast anymore!

Another interesting ingredient in this recipe is fontina cheese. If you’ve never experienced the creamy, nuttiness of fontina you’re in for a treat. Though it’s usually found in the specialty cheese department of most grocery stores, it’s typically reasonably priced. If you’re unable to find it or are afraid to try it, you can substitute swiss or gruyère for a slightly different taste.

Polenta with Creamy Mushroom Sauce
Adapted from Eating Well Magazine
Serves 4

    1 16-ounce tube prepared polenta, sliced into 8 rounds
    1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
    1/2 cup minced onion
    1 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
    2 cups stemmed & sliced shiitake mushrooms (appx. 4.5 ounces)
    1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
    1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    1/2 cup dry white wine (or vegetable stock)
    1 teaspoon dried tarragon
    1/2 cup low fat sour cream
    2/3 cup shredded fontina cheese

    Preheat oven to 400-degrees. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. Arrange polenta slices on baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven until slices are crispy on bottom and heated through; about 20 minutes.

    Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Stir in mushrooms, salt, and pepper; cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms are softened and most of the liquid has evaporated (8-10 minutes).

    Add wine and tarragon; bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Allow the mixture to reduce, stirring occasionally, until liquid is almost evaporated (approximately 2 tablespoons remaining). Lower heat, stir in sour cream and cheese. Do not boil the mixture or the sauce will curdle and separate. Serve sauce over polenta slices.

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Especially when you start with prepared polenta, this recipe can come together and land on your dinner plate in 30 minutes or less. It’s also great for those evenings when you may want a smaller entrée (perhaps you’re serving a decadent dessert that you need to save room for?). You can round out the meal with a simple salad and a slice of crusty bread. With mushrooms and sour cream, the taste is similar to beef stroganoff and — with all that flavor and a snazzy presentation — you really don’t miss the beef at all! This is a recipe that will definitely go into our vegetarian rotation.

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~ by Jason on January 18, 2011.

4 Responses to “Polenta with Creamy Mushroom Sauce”

  1. I wonder if I would like it ?
    Mushrooms ? Yucky LOL
    Love ya mom

    • Something tells me you’d like it but you’d want to pick out alllll the mushrooms and just eat the sauce and polenta. 😀 Love you too!

  2. Jason:
    The mushroom sauce sounds wonderful. But…it needs to be on a nice med-rare NY strip instead!!!

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