Yesterday was a sit outside at the harbor restaurant terrace, while enjoying the Indian summer 80 degree heat and fish and chips kind of a day. Today is a stay at home, proper late autumn gray, wet day. The temperature plummeted by 30 degrees overnight and my spirits with it.
This recipe is the perfect Sunday lunch for such a dank and depressing day, and one of the best things that I have made to eat all year; beautifully meditative during construction and completely sybaritic during consumption. This is an absolute gem of a dish and I also like seeing what is essentially dried corn grit turn into something so pleasingly unctuous and luxurious to devour - cooking alchemy at its finest.
1/4 cup polenta (I used stoneground which is slightly more coarse than regular polenta cornmeal)
3/4 cup assorted mushrooms (I chopped them into rather large pieces so that they would taste more substantial as part of a one-dish meal and used oyster mushrooms and portobello caps)
1 1/2 cups baby spinach leaves, finely chopped
1/3 of a medium-sized onion peeled and cut into crescents (I used a red onion to accentuate the color of the red wine in the mushroom component of the dish)
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tsps very finely chopped Italian parsley
2 Tbsps heavy cream
2 Tbsps grated Parmesan
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp butter
Splash of olive oil
1 Tbsp full-bodied red wine, whatever you plan on drinking a glass of with the dish
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Salt and cracked black pepper to taste
Prep all of your vegetables and set aside until needed.
Bring 1 1/4 cups of water and a generous pinch of salt to a rolling boil. As soon as the water is boiling, drizzle in the polenta slowly, whisking madly as you do, to avoid any lumps. Lower your heat to low and set a timer to 20 minutes.
Keep an eye on your timer as you prepare the mushrooms, and remember to stir the polenta often to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning.
Melt one teaspoon of the butter along with the splash of olive oil and the garlic clove in a skillet. The olive oil will keep the butter from burning.
As soon as the butter has melted, add the onions to the pan, along with a pinch of salt and cook for a minute or two, stirring often (the polenta too, remember), until the onion is translucent and starting to soften.
Tip in the mushrooms, a pinch of salt and lower the heat. Stir to combine and add 1 teaspoon of water and the Worcestershire sauce.
Keep on stirring both dishes from time to time, until you have 10 minutes left on your timer. At this point, stir the chopped spinach into the polenta and the red wine into the mushroom dish.
Continue cooking and stirring until 5 minutes of cooking time remain. Stir the mushrooms well and add a few grinds of fresh pepper and check for seasoning. Add the chopped parsley to the dish as well as one of the remaining teaspoons of butter.
Add the cream, the remaining butter and the grated Parmesan to the polenta and raise the heat slightly. Now, stir the polenta continuously until your timer goes off, incorporating the cream and the melting cheese into the polenta. Shake the mushroom pan from time to time while you stir the polenta to keep the mushrooms from burning.
Ladle the polenta into your serving bowl and top with the burnished mushrooms from which you have first removed the clove of garlic.