Happy New Year…x2, because yesterday ushered in the Chinese New Year. The Year of the Water Dragon! I read in an article that “the dragon is larger than life and means big things are to come” so I wish you all good things to come in 2012. While you are chasing the “big things” out there, you will no doubt have little time for cooking but don’t be disheartened because I have you covered with a quick, easy and satisfying dishes. To start the year off is Polenta, which is a classic Italian traditional “peasant” food made from yellow or white cornmeal. If you’ve never heard of polenta, you can liken it to Grits in the US, Ugali in East Africa and Pap in South Africa. The similarities is that they all start with a pot of boiling liquid (water/stock) and the cornmeal. The differences are what other ingredients are added to that mushy mixture. Soft polenta can be treated like a mashed potato. Firm polenta can be cut into different shapes for grilling, roasting or frying.
Traditional polenta requires a lengthy cooking but I’ve used an instant variety, which takes only a couple of minutes to prepare. Although polenta was a peasant dish, it is now seen as a gourmet food, served in the best restaurants with versatile combinations. I’ve paired mine with mushrooms, one of the Super Foods that you should be including in your diet this year. Mushrooms are low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol-free, low in sodium, packed with B vitamins, Vitamin D, anti-oxidant and immunity fighting nutrients.
If “big things” are to come, you definitely need all the help you can get right? Let’s get to it then.
Instant Polenta Cornmeal, Onion, Tomatoes, Mushrooms, Butter, Mascarpone.
and Balsamic Vinegar, Veggie Seasonings and White wine. Not pictured are Parmesan Cheese and dry thyme.
Heat the oil, butter and onions. Saute for a couple minutes then add the sliced mushrooms and cook until tender and brown
Add your veggie seasonings of choice. You could also choose to just add salt and pepper only or throw in a handful of fresh herbs!
At this point the mushrooms should be tender, add some balsamic vinegar and let it pick up any bits and pieces from the bottom of the pan…read that as: flavor bits
Really, you don’t need the wine because the balsamic vinegar does pretty much the same thing. But if you are like me and have half-opened bottles of wine use them to cook! It adds a depth of flavor to your food.
Add your tomatoes. I add them to one side of my pan so that they can get into direct contact with the pan and the heat breaks them down faster.
After a couple of minutes the sauce is getting nice and thick…
Mushrooms and tomatoes are now cooked through so turn off the heat and stir in a heaping tablespoon of mascarpone . If you don’t have mascarpone on hand, you can sub with sour cream.
Mmmh, looks and smells so good…at this point you could just grab some crusty loaf and eat this right out of the pan. Unless of course you have people waiting on dinner then you better get to making the polenta …
Right then, here’s how yellow cornmeal looks like. Into boiling water, add butter, salt and pepper, if using. Once we boil it, we can call it Polenta!
Make sure you add the cornmeal in a thin stream and use a whisk. Once it combines you can switch to a wooden spoon. Mine was instant cornmeal so it took about 2-3 minutes! If using traditional cornmeal, you would have to stir it occasionally, for about 45 minutes. Save the traditional stuff for the weekend and use instant during the week for quick dinners!
Once cooked, turn the heat off, add your dried thyme and grated Parmesan. If you wanted to eat it soft, serve into bowls (as you would mashed potatoes) and top with the mushroom sauce. If you want it to be firmer, keep reading…
Lightly oil a baking sheet and pour your polenta and spread to about 1/2 inch thickness. Set aside to cool and set into a firm polenta.
Once set, cut into shape of choice – squares, rectangles, circles, triangles and set onto plate
Get a good ladle-full of mushroom sauce and pour over the polenta. Look at the pretty little green flecks of thyme.
I had leftovers and the next morning for breakfast, I cut out some Polenta triangles and fried those babies up in butter!
Look at that crust perfection…crisp on the outside and soft on the inside
Drizzle some honey and somehow, everything seems right in the world…sigh
- If you want firm Polenta, start the dish by making the polenta first then the mushrooms so that it will set during the time you cook the mushrooms *time saver*
- Cook per directions on your Polenta Cornmeal package as they differ depending on coarseness (fine, medium, coarse) and type (instant, part-cooked or traditional). Also, depending where you live, you can find Polenta tubes/logs and you just slice them and heat them up.
- Experiment with different types of additions to the Polenta – cheeses such as cheddar, Gorgonzola; fresh or dried herbs like thyme, or sage; instead of water you can use chicken/vegetable stock or add some milk.
- Treat soft polenta as you would mashed potatoes – pair with veggies, meat or a combination. Add variety in your diet by using Polenta in place of potatoes, rice or pasta.
Recipe for: Polenta with Mushrooms