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Baked Polenta with Morel & Shiitake Mushroom Sauce

Baked polenta with morels and shiitake sauce

Before I was a lonely home cook, slaving away in the kitchen all evening only to have dinner be rejected by my own spawn for the much preferred scrambled eggs a la Papa, I used to work in some pretty fabulous restaurants. These fabulous restaurants taught me many things, but the thing I value the most, that singular piece of information worth it’s weight in gold, is flavour combination. When combining flavours, one must have a keen palate and an eye for detail. Things can go very wrong when you don’t know what flavours go together and what would be a terrible mistake. Some things are simple, vanilla goes with strawberries, cinnamon does well with molasses. But what about fennel? Does it go with pork? Does caramel go with marsala? These questions can be confusing and not easily answered. Until now! I recently discovered this great website: FoodPairing. For instance, did you know that roasted lamb pairs well with rum? Good to know! Also, if you are truly curious, there is The Flavour Bible, a collaboration with many of America’s top chefs. This book is the definitive guide to flavour pairings.

Today’s recipe is a bit of an easy combination of flavours. Mushrooms in a thick brown sauce, poured over a lovely rosemary spiked, baked polenta. There’s not much guess work here, mushrooms go with many savoury dishes. It has been waiting to make it’s debut for some time now though. I kept it in the vault for a little while, waiting for more cooler weather to rear it’s ugly backside. As I’ve said a gazillion times, I like to buy local and stay seasonal, so this dish fits right in there. (Did you like my use of the word gazillion? I put that in there to bug my husband. He says it’s not a “real” word, but what is nowadays?)

This dish can be made any time of year really, because I use dried mushrooms. Mainly because they are much cheaper, store for longer periods and when you soak them, you create a delicious mushroom stock. You can use whatever mushrooms are available, and even fresh would work just fine.

Baked Polenta with Morel and Shiitake Mushroom Sauce

For the polenta:

2 cups whole milk
3 cups water
1 1/2 cups corn meal, medium grain
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup parmesan, grated
1 tsp rosemary, dried and pulverized

1. Heat the milk and water to a rapid boil.
2. Slowly sprinkle in the corn meal, whisking as you go.
3. Add salt and turn down to a simmer. Continue to whisk as it cooks, which could take anywhere from 5 minutes to 45 minutes depending on your corn meal.
4. Stir in Parmesan near the end, and remove from heat.
5. On a greased baking tray (1/2″ high sides), pour the polenta and pat the top into an even, flat surface. Make sure the polenta is no thicker than 1/2″.

Polenta cooling

6. Cool in refrigerator for about 30 minutes.
7. Remove from fridge, cut into desired shapes and bake in a 450°F oven for 20-25 minutes. Make sure to flip the polenta once halfway through.

Cut up Polenta

For the Mushroom Sauce:

22g Dried Morels
2 oz dried shiitake mushrooms
4 cups boiled water
1/2 a sweet onion, diced
1 clove garlic, grated
2 green onion stalks, chopped
2 Tbsp salted butter
1/2 lb. fresh brown crimini mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup vermouth
salt & pepper
1 Tbsp cornstarch
3 Tbsp cold water
white truffle oil (optional)

Morels, all plumped up

1. In just boiled water, soak mushrooms for 45-60 minutes.
2. When done soaking, remove stems of shiitake and dice all mushrooms. Reserve water for sauce.
3. In a deep, heavy saucepan, heat butter on medium high heat. Add in garlic, onions and mushrooms (all three kinds).

Veg getting ready for sauce

4. Sauté for about 15 minutes. When all liquid has evaporated, add in vermouth and deglaze pan.

Veg for polenta sauce

5. Add reserved mushroom water one cup at a time until a sauce begins to develop. You will most likely use 3 cups of stock.
6. Mix cornstarch and water until fully combined. Add one teaspoon at a time to mushroom sauce until desired thickness is achieved.
7. Season with salt and pepper and serve on top of polenta.
8. If using truffle oil, sprinkle over sauce just before eating. Serve with steamed vegetables.

Polenta with sauce of Morels

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