Born to a mushroom-loving father and a fungus-despising mother, my sister and I wisely chose the Path of Mushroom at an early age and never looked back. If anything, it was a competition to see who got to eat mom's 'extra' mushrooms that she without fail pushed to the edge of her plate (why weren't we kids allowed to do that, hmmmmm mother?!). Legends abound that supposedly one summer afternoon when our grandmother was babysitting us, she asked what we wanted for lunch (i.e. peanut butter and jelly or a tuna sandwich, probably), and we replied, "Steak and 'shrooms!" I'm pretty sure she didn't whip out the T-bone and Baby Bellas right then and there. No wonder I hate tuna sandwiches.
In between scaring Pia at the farmer's market yesterday with my vegetable-talking antics, ("I deserve to be eaten too," said the sad tomato with the weird growth on his booty. "I cope with all my problems by eating the pain away," sniffled the eggplant that was really skinny on top but as wide as 2 normal globe eggplants on the bottom), I was mostly marveling in how COLORFUL summer food is. Needless to say, I did not linger at the displays of beets or even the leafy greens (you'll still be there when I need you kale, it's ok!). Their time will come in the fall. But if there is one veggie that I could never get tired of eating year round, it would be mushrooms.
This recipe is one that I make often for parties and once upon a time had followed this Bon Appetit recipe before finding my own way.
For the polenta:
3 cups milk
3 cups water
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 cups polenta (coarsely-ground cornmeal)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3/4 cup finely grated parmigiano reggiano
For the mushrooms:
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 lbs baby bella mushrooms or assorted wild mushrooms (I used 1 lb baby bella and 1/2 lb shitakes)
3 small shallots, finely chopped (3.5 oz)
1/2 tsp kosher salt, or more to taste
1/2 cup Marsala wine
1/3 cup half and half
1-2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 Tbsp vegetable oil for pan-frying the polenta squares, divided
Make this the night before so the polenta has time to firm up in the fridge.
1. Heat the milk, water, butter, and salt in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook until the liquid comes to a boil, stirring occasionally to ensure the milk isn’t scorching on the bottom.
2. Stream the polenta slowly into the boiling pot, whisking furiously all the while so you don’t end up with lumpy-dumpy polenta.
3. Turn the heat down to medium-low, and continued stirring the polenta while it simmers, until it has thickened, absorbing all of the liquid, about 20 minutes (I was using Bob’s Red Mill polenta, and they gave a 30 min cook time over low heat). Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmigiano Reggiano.
4. Pour the polenta onto a half-sheet pan sprayed with non-stick spray (I also lined it with parchment paper for easy removal). Spread it out evenly in the pan, about a 1/2 inch thick layer. Cover with saran wrap and cool in the refrigerator overnight (or minimum 4 hours) until firm.
5. Slice the polenta into 2 inch squares.6.Heat 2 Tbsp vegetable oil in a large (12 inch non-stick skillet) over medium heat. Add the polenta squares in batches- I was able to cook 12 at a time- and fry until golden brown on one side, about 5 minutes. Flip over and brown the second side, 5 more minutes. Transfer to a parchment or paper towel lined sheet pan. Repeat until all of the polenta squares are pan-fried, adding vegetable oil to the pan as needed to keep the bottom of the pan coated in oil. I used a total of 8 Tbsp of oil to cook all of the polenta squares. (The goal for your polenta squares is a crispy, brown exterior and a soft, creamy interior.)
This can also be made ahead a day or two and gently reheated before serving.
1.Heat the 4 Tbsp butter in a large stainless-steel skillet over medium heat. When it has melted and started to sizzle, add the chopped mushrooms and shallots. Saute until the mushrooms have released their liquid, and the onions have softened and are translucent.
2.Once the mushrooms and shallots start sticking to the pan, pour in the 1/2 cup Marsala wine. Scrape up any tasty mushroom bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Continue cooking over medium heat until the Marsala wine has mostly evaporated.
3.Add the half-and-half to the skillet. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook a few more minutes until the half-and-half has thickened to a sauce. Turn off the heat and stir in the chopped fresh parsley.
4.Taste for seasoning and add a little more salt if needed. Add a few grinds of black pepper.
5.Spoon a heaping Tbsp of the mushroom topping onto each polenta square. I used a small ice cream/cookie scoop to make it easier than just spooning it on.
6.You could sprinkle a little more Parmigiano Reggiano on top, but at this point I thought that was taking the lily and gilding the crap out of it, so I did not.
7.Serve hot. Makes 56 polenta squares.