I believe mushrooms are truly a gift from nature and they are precious to the vegetarian cook, with their earthy robust flavors and meaty texture.
Fresh wild mushrooms are sometimes difficult to find and fresh porcini nearly impossible. While some of you may be wary of dried mushrooms, after trying this recipe, you’ll realize how absolutely delicious and bursting with rich flavor they can be.
Look for dried Porcini of high quality, preferably those imported from Italy or France. The sliced caps should be dark brown and at least 2 inches in length.
2-1/2 c. quick cooking Italian polenta
6 c. water
1/2-1 t. salt
4 T. butter or 1/4 c. olive oil, optional
1/2 c. Fontina cheese, optional
3 c. Porcini mushrooms (dried & reconstituted, see below)
3 c. mixed fresh mushrooms such as button, shitake, or crimini
2 T. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large onion, sliced thinly
1 c. chopped plum tomatoes, skinned
1/4 c. dry white wine, optional
1/2 c. chopped mixed fresh herbs — parsley, basil, thyme, & tarragon
Salt and pepper to taste
To prepare Polenta:
Bring salted water to a rolling boil in a heavy saucepan. Slowly sprinkle polenta meal into water, stirring constantly. Lower heat, then continue to stir and cook until polenta thickens and pulls away from sides of pan, about 4-5 minutes. Now add butter or olive oil and cheese if you want.
Spray a 9 X 13 inch cake pan with water, then pour polenta into pan and spread to corners with the back of a wooden spoon. If mixture sticks to spoon, simply spritz polenta with a little water.
Allow polenta to set up — 45-60 minutes — before cutting and using. You can also wrap with plastic tightly and refrigerate until ready to use. Polenta will keep in the fridge for about a week and can be used for our fabulous fried polenta appetizer.
To prepare Mushroom Topping:
Rinse dried mushrooms under running water to clean, then soak in warm water to cover about 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile clean and slice fresh mushrooms and set aside. In a small saucepan, boil water. Drop tomatoes into boiling water one by one. After a few seconds skins will pucker and begin to loosen. Remove immediately from water and slide skins off. Chop peeled tomatoes roughly and set aside.
Heat oil in a wide saute pan and add garlic and onions. Saute until just beginning to soften, then add fresh mushroom and continue to saute.
With your hands, squeeze broth from reconstituted dried mushrooms and add them to saute pan. Stir, then add 1 cup of reserved broth, and simmer. Any leftover broth can be saved for stock.
When sauce thickens, add tomatoes and half the herbs. Simmer another 10-15 minutes. Sauce should be thick and rich. Add some of the reserved mushroom broth if mixture seems too dry. If desired, now add wine. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, then remaining herbs.
Slice polenta into 1/2″ wide slices and place in individual portions on a baking sheet greased with olive oil.
If desired, then drizzle with additional olive oil.
Bake at 475 degrees for about 10 minutes, until brown and bubbly.
Spoon mushroom topping over individual servings, dress with additional fruity (Sicilian) olive oil, and serve hot.
Note: Only needing a rinse to clean them, soaking dried mushrooms in water for less than half an hour prepares them for cooking. Make sure to reserve the rich “broth” soaking creates, as it makes an excellent base for soups and sauces and is impossible to achieve with fresh, cultivated mushrooms.