Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Baked Polenta with Crimini Mushrooms and Fresh Sage

‘Do not do unto others as they would do to you; their tastes may not be the same’, George Bernard Shaw.  (Painting - Polenta Makers - by Pietro Longhi (1751).

I’ve always been on friendly terms with polenta, but my enthusiasm for bringing it to the supper table as dinner guest hasn’t always been so warmly greeted by my nearest and dearest.  Polenta is a way of life in northern Italian, and has been for generations (see painting of polenta makers from 1751), so surely we can find room in our hearts for a little?
Uncooked, polenta is a grainy, bright yellow maize.  I think it’s beautiful’; it actually sparkles and glitters.  I usually make up the stuff in a sauce pan from the grain, stirred and then bake it and cut it up into shapes to embellish.  The advantage of this is that you can add stock or herbs to the base.  However, it does then become a three part process – make it up on a stove, bake it and then re-bake or fry it for your dish; for something so, well, utility, it can seem a little over laboured.  I bake mine in parchment lined roasting trays.  I’ve never tried to spread it on a cheese cloth like in Pietro Longhi’s painting, but this does look fun.  Once cooled, I’m sure you could build gingerbread style polenta houses with it, as it becomes quite architectural.    Unfortunately, on this occasion, I could only buy pre-cooked slabs of it in the supermarket, which was disappointing, but in hindsight, as I was feeding twelve, a few shortcuts was actually helpful.  It sliced easily into neat rectangles and I placed them on buttered parchment on a baking tray. 

Meanwhile, I fried some mushrooms in butter. We are rather sold short on mushrooms in the UK as there are hundreds of different types of edible types of mushrooms, but only around ten types are grown commercially and therefore make it to our tables.  They are good high source of vitamin B & D and treated gently, have unique, delicate flavours that are lost when they are so often drowned in unimaginative (usually cream) sauce.s  I used firm Crimini mushrooms (they look like button mushrooms, but with a pale brown skin) that retain their shape after frying.  I drained some of the liquid off as I didn’t want them soggy.  I also added some fresh sage to the frying pan.  I then drizzled olive oil over the polenta and put spoonfuls of mushrooms and fresh sage onto the polenta rectangles.  I baked the trays in the oven until the polenta started to brown and sizzle.  It all went and the kids ate it.  I did tell them it was a kind of pizza (true).  Husband was sceptical, but the taste won him over.  I served the polenta with a warm beetroot, orange, feta, cucumber and lettue salad.  What’s the point of having family and friends over for supper if you can’t inflict your taste on them?  My adventures will polenta will continue and I pledge to go mushroom foraging with an expert at some point.

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