1 C polenta, instant or traditional
4 C water or stock
2 cloves garlic
2-4 C mushrooms (approx), cleaned and quartered
Greens to braise – spinach, kale, chard
Parsley and/or other favourite herbs
Butter, 2 Tbsp
Thyme, 1-2 tsp chopped
Rosemary, 1-2 tsp chopped
Parmesan or similar
Lemon for squeezing
I used to think that making polenta was a bit fancy and sort of a big deal, but no longer. Instant polenta is so easy, and traditional polenta can just be baked in the oven for an hour, so there’s really no drama either way. All kinds of juicy braised vegetables would go with a polenta meal, but at this point in the year it’s all about mushrooms. Juicy herb mushrooms, braised greens, creamy polenta = comforting, easy and delicious.
First heat olive oil and a little butter and sauté the mushrooms for a few minutes. Then add the garlic, thyme, and any leafy greens (I used broad bean tips from the garden – the plants get bushier and the greens taste great) and let those warm and soften before taking the pan off the heat. Add lots of greens if you feel like them, or none at all. Cook the mushrooms (and greens) in 2 batches so the mushies can braise and brown a little in contact with the pan.
Cook your polenta according to habit or packet instructions. If you’re like me and are using instant polenta (and have long ago thrown out the packet instructions), you just need to remember the ratio of 4:1 liquid to polenta. I’d make 1 Cup polenta with 4 Cups water to feed 2 really hungry people or 4 not so hungry people. Pop the cold water (or stock) on the stove in a generous sized pot, add salt and stir in the polenta well so it starts cooking with minimal lumps. Instant polenta will only take 5 minutes, but keep your eye on it and stir frequently. A lid helps, it can get a little bubbly. When it’s almost done throw in a knob of butter and some chopped rosemary if you like. If the polenta cools down and hardens, just add a little more water and stir over the heat.
Great! You could be done now, or grill it to set the polenta a little. In that case, transfer the polenta into a shallow pan, maybe grate a little cheese over it (parmesan, pecorino, asiago… something like that) and pop it under a hot grill for a few minutes. Then add the mushrooms and juice on top of the polenta and then back under the grill to warm them up. Serve hot with a squeeze of lemon and extra herbs on top plus a snappy, bitter greens salad on the side. A simple winter feast!
(With thanks to recipes by Maggie Beer and Yotam Ottolenghi)
Hints and Tips
If you prefer eating firm polenta, cool the soft polenta so it sets and then you can cut it into pieces to bake or fry. You can also do this with any left overs for a second meal or a yummy weekend brunch.
This recipe makes a great vegan meal – just omit the butter (stick to olive oil) and the added cheese.