Saturday, November 24, 2012

Baked Polenta with Mushrooms and Gorgonzola

In the last post I told you about using Lonesome Whistle Farm's polenta in skillet cornbread. The other dish I made right away with this rainbow of coarse cornmeal is one inspired by a baked polenta and gorgonzola recipe from The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison. To contrast the sharp notes of the cheese, I used some earthy mushrooms, both fresh creminis and an assortment of dried ones. And to make the most of the flavors, I used the soaking liquid from the dried mushrooms as the broth for the polenta.

Admittedly, this dish is a bit involved. First you prepare a tomato sauce, saute your mushrooms, and stir your polenta into a thick mush. Then you need to let the polenta solidify before sliced it, layering it with the mushrooms, sauce, and cheese, and baking it into a pan of bubbling, pungent gooeyness. But each of the steps itself is easy and relaxing; nothing like the time sensitive last stages of getting warm turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy on the table for a hungry horde. So make this dish on a leisurely weekend day when you're ready for a break from turkey leftovers.

Baked Polenta with Mushrooms and Gorgonzola
serves 4 to 6
1 cup polenta
3 1/2 cups boiling water
2 ounces dried mushrooms such as porcini
6 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms
2 Tbsp olive oil for sauteing the mushrooms and more for oiling the pans
~2 cups simple tomato sauce  
4 ounces gorgonzola cheese
fresh parsley leaves

1. Soak the dried mushrooms in 3 1/2 cups of boiling water. After ten minutes, strain the mushroom broth through a fine mesh strainer into a medium pot (you will have about 3 cups), and reserve the rehydrated mushrooms. Heat the mushroom broth with a generous pinch of salt until it is boiling. Slowly pour the polenta grain into the pot in a narrow stream as you whisk. Adjust the heat to medium and stir the polenta with a wooden spoon for about 15 minutes, until it forms a thick, creamy mush that pulls away from the sides of the pan. Brush the inside of a loaf pan with olive oil and pour in the polenta. Let the polenta cool and harden (you can do this a day ahead). 

2. Prepare a simple tomato sauce with a 32 ounce can of tomatoes or a quart of fresh peeled romas.

3. Brush the cremini mushrooms clean and cut them into slices. Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a skillet and saute the mushrooms with a generous pinch of salt and grinding of black pepper until their juices are released and then evaporated. Chop the rehydrated mushrooms.

4. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cover the bottom of a 9 x 12 inch baking dish with about one cup of tomato sauce. Sprinkle over the chopped rehydrated mushrooms. Unmold the hardened polenta and cut it into 1/2 inch slices. Arrange strips of polenta along the bottom of the baking dish. Drizzle the remaining tomato sauce over the polenta (you can leave some parts uncovered). Then sprinkle the cooked cremini mushrooms over and finally crumble the gorgonzola cheese on top. 

5. Bake the polenta for about 30 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the gorgonzola has melted. Sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley and serve warm.

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