Soft Polenta with Interesting Mushrooms


Preparation info

  • Serves


    • Difficulty


Appears in

Set a Table

Set a Table

By Karen Dudley

Published 2018

  • About

I mostly like mushrooms buttered and on toast. Sometimes one has to calm the noise of louder flavours to reach into the depths of the fungi for its particular warm umami. This recipe, which began as a filling for a mushroom tart, is a perfect dish to serve on the most comforting soft polenta. Serve small as a starter or large for a perfect vegetable main.


  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 90 g butter
  • 2 onions, peeled
  • 300 g chestnut or button mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
  • 500 g assorted mushrooms such as Portobello, shiitake, oyster and buna-shimeji mushrooms, cleaned, halved, quartered and divided into each variety
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • salt and white pepper to taste
  • 1 generous cup crème fraîche
  • 2 tsp English mustard
  • 3 tbsp Ouzo/Pernod
  • tbsp chopped tarragon or tsp dried tarragon
  • tbsp parsley, chopped
  • micro leaves for garnish


    Heat a large, heavy-based pan with a third of the oil and butter, add the onions and cook on high heat for 10 minutes, stirring, until translucent and brown. Tip the onions into a bowl. Add another third of the oil and butter to the pan and cook the button or chestnut mushrooms over medium-high heat for a minute without stirring (mushrooms become alarmingly watery without browning if they are stirred too much at this point). Stir briefly and then cook for another minute, then add to the bowl of onions. Fry the remaining mushrooms in the rest of the oil and butter using the same method, and again, add to the onions and other mushrooms in the bowl.

    Tip the whole onion mushroom mixture back into the large, heavy-based pan, this time adding the vegetable stock, lots of salt and white pepper and simmer on high heat for about 7–8 minutes, until reduced by two thirds. Reduce the heat and stir in the crème fraîche and English mustard, cooking gently over a low heat for 7 minutes. Finally, add the Ouzo or Pernod, tarragon and parsley. Adjust the seasoning to taste.

    Now start on the polenta. In a deep saucepan in which you can stir without splashing, heat the milk and salt until simmering but not yet boiling. Slowly add the polenta in a stream, stirring all the while with a wooden spoon, keeping the pan over medium-high heat. The polenta will take a while to thicken and will be a paler yellow colour than you would expect of firmer polenta. The biggest mistake you can make is to add more polenta for fear that your mixture is not thickening and you have added too little. Be patient. The mixture will thicken, and when it does, it will thicken fast. When you have it at a consistency that is just a little softer than you think you want it, remove it from the heat and stir through the butter and cheese. Season with the flaked sea salt and black pepper.

    To serve, spoon a generous dollop of polenta into shallow bowls. The mixture will firm more as it cools. Make a little indentation in the middle of the polenta and spoon over the mushroom mixture. Garnish generously with micro leaves.