Polenta with Wild Mushrooms

Polenta con Funghi

Vitti Gabrielli and her husband have spent a great deal of time and effort restoring an old mountain cottage in the tiny village of Vattaro, near Trento, as their holiday retreat It was here that we went to spend the day with them and several friends to eat mountains of steaming polenta with a deliciously rich sauce of wild woodland mushrooms. Gathering mushrooms is a local obsession. Everyone does it, either for pleasure or profit, and the baskets of bounty are then taken to Trento’s tiny central market to be checked by the mushroom policemen. The mushroom policemen are ordinary vigili urbani, who have been trained to recognise and select wild mushrooms. To stand and watch these serious, uniformed gentlemen, gravely checking basketfuls of mushrooms at eight o’ clock of a weekday morning, is one of the highlights of a visit to Trento. Here is the recipe for the polenta and mushrooms that Vitti made for us (with carefully checked mushrooms!).

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Ingredients

For the sauce

  • lb (2 kg) wild
  • mushrooms (Boletus edulis, puffball or field)
  • ½ wine glass olive oil
  • 1 handful of parsley, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • ½ onion, peeled and chopped
  • salt and pepper

For the polenta

  • 4.5 pints (2.5 litres) water
  • 1 small fistful of coarse sea salt
  • 1 lb (450 g) polenta flour

Method

Clean all the mushrooms very carefully and cut them up into even-sized pieces. Put them in a saucepan with all the other sauce ingredients. Stir everything together, cover and simmer for a generous hour, or until the mushrooms are cooked through and have re-absorbed their juices.

To make the polenta, pour the water into a large deep saucepan, preferably made of copper, and bring it to the boil with the salt. When the water boils, trickle in the polenta flour like fine rain, whisking constantly with a balloon whisk to prevent lumps from forming. When the mixture is smooth, cover with a lid and boil slowly, whisking very frequently. Cook for a total of 40 minutes, making sure it is boiling constantly.

Tip the cooked polenta out on to a wooden board, shape it into a cake using a spatula and let it set slightly. Cut it into slabs and serve 1 slab per person with the mushroom sauce.

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