Although traditional Italian polenta is cornmeal that is more coarsely ground, I was confident that this would be a close approximation. Since it's not at all common in my region, I've only tried polenta once before, several years ago in a restaurant in Fredericton, where it was cut into triangles and served under a wild mushroom ragu. I loved how it was an interesting alternative to pasta or potatoes, and how its neutral taste absorbed the flavour of the ragu. Armed with this tasty memory, I set to work on creating a polenta dish to call my own.
To start, I sautéd a mixture of sliced cremini, shitake, and white button mushrooms with kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper in butter and olive oil until soft and fragrant.
I then seasoned the sliced polenta and fried it in butter until it was golden brown on each side. This took about 3-4 minutes on each side on medium-high heat.
I placed the fried polenta in the bottom of a shallow dish. I thought of making it arty and having the pieces radiate outward in a star shape, but then I snapped back to reality. That's just not how I operate! Random placement is just fine.
Lucky for me, Jeff had a marinara sauce bubbling away on the stove (made from crushed canned tomatoes, onions, garlic, basil, oregano, thyme, bay leaves, and copious amounts of red wine.) I ladled a generous serving of the sauce all over the polenta, and topped it off with the mushrooms.
The only thing left to do was to add some grated parmesan cheese for garnish, of course.
I was really pleased with this dish. The buttery polenta acted like a delicious sponge, and really took on the flavour of the sauce. I also loved the combination of the different kinds of mushrooms. This was a very hearty vegetarian dish, one that was perfect for the cold weather we've suddenly come into.
I'm grateful for Jeff's culinary mishap, because it allowed me to be creative and try something new.
In fact, from now on when he gets a craving for cornmeal porridge, I'll insist that he follows the instructions on the back of the bag.
Amanda's notes: Something I'd like to try in the future would be to mix herbs and spices and/or cheese into the cornmeal before allowing it to cool.
I think leftover slices of polenta broiled with a sharp cheese on top would make a wonderful breakfast.