Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Seared Mushrooms and Polenta

oyster, maitake, and shitake mushrooms
photo by Mark Hanauer

I have looked through the pages of Plenty more times than I can count. I often flip through the pages when I'm looking for inspiration for a dinner party, client, or for what to do with a farmer's market bounty.  I've always been interested in the mushroom and herb polenta recipe, but it felt like a special occasion dish and I never found the right special occasion to make it.

Last night, I was in the mood to make something special for no occasion.  I suggested a few options to my dinner companions, and they voted for mushrooms and polenta.  I didn't feel like following a recipe, and I also felt like making seared polenta as opposed to the baked polenta in the recipe.  I also didn't have time to make polenta from scratch, bake it in the oven for at least an hour, then cool it, then cut it into rounds or squares, then sear it.  Instead, I bought pre-made polenta (in the tube, found at Whole Foods or most other grocery stores). I cut the polenta into rounds before searing it.  

The recipe recommends Taleggio cheese, but the store had was out.  The guy at the Venice Whole Foods cheese counter was super helpful, and found me a mild sheep's milk cheese that worked really well. A goat's milk Gouda might be nice. You could probably use Mozzarella if you only had that on hand.

If you love mushrooms, this dish is perfect.  The creamy crusted polenta pairs perfectly with the earthy browned mushrooms, fresh herbs, and creamy melted cheese.  This meal feels special, but it is perfect as a mid-week dinner after work.  I served it with a simple salad with a balsamic Dijon vinaigrette, and we all ate coconut ice cream for dessert.  It was a great and happy meal.

Here's the dish, inspired by Ottolenghi...

Seared Mushrooms and Polenta Rounds with Herbs and Melted Cheese
Serves 4-5

About the mushrooms:  I used maitake, shiitake, cremini, and oyster. You could use any mushrooms you like, but I would try to use shiitake and oyster if you can, as they have a more delicate texture than cremini, white button or portobello mushrooms. 

olive oil
5-6 cups mixed mushrooms 
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tablespoon, fresh thyme
1 tablespoon, chopped fresh rosemary
salt and pepper
2 18-oz sleeves/tubes plain polenta, cut into 1/2 inch rounds
4-5 oz Taleggio cheese, cut into thin slices (or use a mild semi-hard Sheep's or Goat's cheese)
1/3 cup shredded parmigiano-reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Line a sheet pan or large platter with paper towels. Line a second sheet pan with parchment paper, or tin foil.

Start by cleaning your mushrooms. Remove dirt and grit with a damp towel so as not to saturate the mushrooms with water. Cut up the oyster and maitake mushrooms into 1-inch pieces.  Slice the cremini and the shiitake mushrooms.  Prepare the rest of your ingredients: mince the garlic, remove the thyme from the stem, and chop up the rosemary.  

Add a glug of olive oil to a large pan over medium high heat. In batches, add some of the garlic, mushrooms, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper to the pan.  Be careful not to overcrowd the pan otherwise your mushrooms won't brown.  Leave the mushrooms in the pan to brown, then flip them and brown the other side.  I used two pans at the same time to speed up this process. I cooked the mushrooms in about 5 or 6 batches.  Transfer the browned mushrooms to a sheet pan lined with paper towels. Set aside all of the browned mushrooms.

Pat dry the polenta rounds before you cook them.  In the same pan you used for the mushrooms, add a tablespoon of olive oil and a pat of butter.  Add 5 or 6 rounds of polenta at a time.  Brown the polenta in batches (don't overcrowd the pan), cook them for 3-5 minutes on each side, or until they are nicely browned and crusty.  Transfer the browned polenta to the parchment-lined sheet pan.

Set your oven to broil.

Top the browned rounds of polenta with the seared mushrooms.  Add a thin slice of cheese on top of each polenta round.  Sprinkle everything with the grated parm.  Place the tray under the broiler for about a minute until the cheese melts and starts to bubble (keep an eye on it, the cheese melts quickly!) Serve and garnish with freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley.

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