There is at least one night a week where I try and make one meatless dish for us. It's cheaper on the groceries because I'm not focused on buying proteins for every other day, and we focus on eating more vegetables and new dishes. I came across this article from Serious Eats, one of my favorite foodie blog columns that I read daily. I've been in love with polenta ever since I had it at in Napa Valley where we dined at Bottega, it was a luscious and creamy polenta topped with a mushroom ragu and balsamic game sauce. It was OMG, out of this world, drop dead fantastic. This recipe has similar components and looked fairly simple to prepare and I had most of the pantry ingredients on hand. Leeks are my favorite new onions as well because it adds so much flavor to the dish. Be careful when using leeks, you must rinse in between and get the dirt from the inner stalks.
I had paired this along with the herb-crusted pork tenderloin and fresh baked wheat bread for a last minute dinner that we had with our fave couple, Adrian & Monica. I went a little crazy by making two main entrees instead of one, and worked my butt off in the kitchen to prepare this meal. *NEVER AGAIN* Do yourself a favor, just make one main entree, your feet will thank you for it. Set aside some time to prepare this slow cooked dish, plus your arms will get a nice bicep workout. But you'll have a wonderful dish to enjoy and you'll be saying MMMM good.
Polenta with a Leek and Mushroom Ragu
Adapted from Serious Eats posted by Michael Natkin
8 cups water
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
2 cups medium or coarse yellow cornmeal (polenta)
2 tablespoons butter (or more to taste)
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 leeks, white and tender green parts only, cleaned and cut into thin semicircles
4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
pinch of chili flakes
1.5 pounds crimini mushrooms, sliced about 1/8" thick
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons minced flat leaf parsley + a few leaves for garnish
6 ounce gorgonzola dolce, cubed
aged balsamic vinegar (tradizionale or condimento grade - not the thin, sour grocery store stuff)
Finishing salt - I used grey salt
1. Bring the water and 1 tablespoon of salt to boil in a medium sized pot (say around 5 quarts). Whisk in the polenta in a thin stream. Reduce to a bare simmer. Stir occasionally but thoroughly to release the starch and avoid scorching. If it seems to be getting too thick, add more water, 1/2 cup at a time. Be careful, polenta likes to "burp" and shoot hot goo on to your arm. *I would mix it every 5 minutes or so to prevent it sticking to the bottom of the pan.*
2. After about 45 minutes, you should see a change where the grains of cornmeal become less distinct and the porridge smoother. At that point, stir in the butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
3. Meanwhile, heat up a large skillet over a medium high flame. Add the oil, and a few seconds later, the leeks, garlic, chili flakes and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are tender.
4. Add the mushrooms and continue frying until they give up their liquid and then dry out and begin to brown. Deglaze the pan with the white wine. Taste and adjust salt.
5. When you are ready to serve, bring the polenta back to temperature if it has cooled down. Stir the minced parsley into the mushrooms. Put a serving of polenta in a warmed bowl and top with the mushroom ragout. Garnish with the cheese (right on the polenta so it begins to melt), the parsley leaves, a generous drizzle of fine balsamic vinegar and a few grains of good finishing salt.
Review: Everyone ate their large serving of polenta, and loved it! Eric said it reminded him of our dinner at Bottega and that was my intent and I succeeded. It's so creamy, light and fluffy and perfectly paired with the sauted veggie ragu. I love the little sweet accents of gorgonzola and tiny bits of grey salt truly heighten the dish. I think I love you polenta!