California Dreamin’

I’m on the plane to Los Angeles right now to visit my good friend for a long weekend. I’ve made the trip every year since she moved away from Chicago four years ago. The get-away is always one of the highlights of my year, as we have the best time shopping, eating, and enjoying the California weather.

Before I sign off for the weekend, I wanted to share a delicious recipe for Baked Polenta with Mushrooms that I made last week for my cousin and her friend, who happens to be one of my most loyal readers ­čÖé

I’d wanted to make polenta at home for quite some time, and I chose this recipe since the cooking process starts off on the stove and finishes in the oven. This reduces the stirring and stove time, and allows you to make it ahead of time. I was conveniently able to assemble the dish first and then let it rest while I finished the rest of the meal preparations. Not to mention, the three different types of earthy mushrooms and touch of parmesan cheese give the dish a hearty richness. Serve the┬ápolenta with chicken, like I did, or braised beef, and it’s perfect complimentary winter side dish.

Not a gorgeous picture, but it sure is delicious!

Baked Polenta with Mushrooms

Yield: 6 servings

Source: Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Healthful Cooking

What You Need

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 pound white mushrooms, brushed clean, stems removed and coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 pound cremini mushrooms, brushed clean, stems removed and coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, brushed clean, stems removed and coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or more, to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups 1-percent-fat milk
  • 1 cup fine yellow cornmeal
  • 3 cups water
  • 4 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • NOTE: I used stone-ground cornmeal. If you use this kind, add 1 cup more water for the first stage of cooking.

What To Do

  1. Combine parsley and garlic on a cutting board and chop together finely. Set aside.
  2. Place a large frying pan over medium-high heat until hot enough for a drop of water to sizzle and then immediately evaporate. Add the 1 tablespoon olive oil and tilt the pan to coat the bottom evenly. Add all the mushrooms and cook, stirring, until lightly browned and softened, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the parsley-garlic mixture and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the tomato paste until blended. Stir in the salt and pepper. Remove from heat.
  4. Preheat oven to 400┬░. Oil and 8-inch square or other shallow baking dish with 1 teaspoon of olive oil.
  5. Pour the milk into a large bowl Gradually add the cornmeal, stirring until smooth.
  6. In a large saucepan over high heat, bring the water to a boil. Gradually stir in the cornmeal mixture into the water. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring, until the cornmeal is very thick and pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 15 - 20 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the cheese. Remove from heat.
  7. Using a rubber spatula, spread half of the polenta evenly in the prepared baking dish. Spoon the mushrooms evenly on top. Spoon the remaining polenta on top and in a smooth layer. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons cheese.
  8. Bake the polenta until puffed and golden, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand for 15 minutes before serving.
  9. Serve the polenta directly from the baking dish, scooping it out with a large spoon or a spatula. Polenta will be soft, but will stiffen upon standing.

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