Polenta with Wild Mushrooms

The first time I had polenta was when I was nine and on an Italian ship sailing from Australia to Genoa. I loved all sorts of hot cereals, and thought polenta was the same thing, so insisted they serve it to me for breakfast, with caramel. Much later (although still remembering with fondness the sugared polenta), I graduated to one of the greatest dishes in the world, polenta with mascarpone covered with freshly grated mounds of white truffles and lashings of ground black pepper.

For this dish, I put the cold mascarpone under the hot polenta, creating a surprise as the cream melts slowly out from under the polenta, as well as a contrast in temperatures.

For a faster and easier version (30 minutes to prepare), omit the cèpe salad on top of the cooked mushrooms and use just the white domestic and portobello field mushrooms to sauce the polenta.

Ingredients

  • cups polenta meal
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons mixed fresh herb leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 cup mascarpone (or double cream)
  • ¼ pound butter
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh garlic
  • 2 pounds fresh wild and domestic mushrooms, sliced
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • 2 large cèpes, matsutake, or Caesar’s Amanita mushroom caps, cooked, sliced in ⅛-inch thick pieces, and kept warm
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 3 tablespoons hazelnut oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

Cook the polenta as directed in the recipe, and keep it warm in the top of a double boiler until needed. Stir in more water if it gets too thick. Mix in 4 tablespoons of the butter just before serving.

Mix the herbs with the mascarpone and keep chilled.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a sauté pan. Put the garlic in the pan and cook for 2 minutes, without letting it brown. Add all the mushrooms (except the cèpes), toss them in the garlic butter, add a pinch of salt, and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the stock, turn up the heat, and cook another 5 minutes. Add the remaining butter and stir until all the butter is incorporated into the sauce. Add pepper and more salt if necessary. Keep warm.

Put the vinegar, parsley, and hazelnut oil in a mixing bowl. Add the warm cèpe slices and mix gently together. Season.

Put the herb cream in the center of each plate, and spoon the polenta over the cream. Then spoon the mushroom sauce over the cream, and place the warm cèpe salad on top of the mushroom sauce.

Variation

I love polenta with fresh young white sweet corn kernels off the cob (one-third the quantity of the cooked polenta), which are put in the polenta for the last 5 minutes of cooking. Then I stir in 2 tablespoons of a butter mixed with blanched and pureed chives, and garnish it all with chive or sage flowers.

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