Some people like clothes or shoes or art, etc. My weaknesses, without a doubt, are food and kitchen-related stuff/ingredients. I have a small growing collection of pottery, wood cutting boards, spices, cookbooks…
So, when I walked past a beautiful assortment of mushrooms the other day, I admired them and then moved on (trying to show a wee bit of restraint). Not long thereafter, I heard this nagging voice in the back of my head, you know you want some. I do, but I shouldn’t spend the money. But, they look so good and there are yellow ones, and pink ones…not something you see everyday. I must have them.
I just couldn’t resist. Mushrooms are freakin’ fantastic and worth celebrating; thus, I entitled this post A Festival of Fungi.
Normally, I’m happy with mushrooms prepared simply, that is to say sauteed in a skillet with butter and/or olive oil, fresh herbs, and salt and pepper. I like when the mushrooms get a little browned and crispy around the edges. Nevertheless, wanted to do something a little more interesting for you. I tossed around a few ideas but finally settled on a mixed mushroom ragù with crispy polenta cakes. Straightforward, classic, rustic — in a way that showcases the mushrooms.
You could use any variety of mushroom to make this ragù. Choose your favorite mushroom(s).
I used a combination of yellow and red oyster mushrooms, king oyster (aka king trumpet), maitake (aka hen of the woods), portobello, cremini (aka baby portobello), and another variety (long white ones that look like enoki?). Hard to go wrong when it comes to mushrooms. I love them all; oysters might be my favorite. Or maybe maitakes. Or, perhaps, lion’s mane mushrooms (my latest discovery). Hard to choose just one. Best to enjoy them all.
I served the mushroom ragù over crispy polenta cakes. You could also serve the mushrooms over creamy polenta, spaghetti/linguini, or crostini.
You could use mushroom stock or chicken stock for the mushroom ragù. I made a batch of chicken stock the other day using chicken feet, aromatics, and lots of herbs. It was my first time using chicken feet to make stock and I have to say they make really great stock. For starters, chicken feet are inexpensive ($1.99 per pound). Moreover, chicken feet have lots of bones and cartilage, which result in a flavorful, gelatinous stock. The chicken feet I bought came already cleaned, so from there it’s just like making any other chicken stock; toss everything in a stock pot and let it simmer away.
You can make the polenta several days in advance and chill in the fridge to set. When ready to use, just cut the polenta into squares and sear in a non-stick skillet until browned and crispy.
For my NYC friends, Farmer Ground is a great local source for polenta (along with other flours).
When it comes to polenta, you need to stir it for a good hour during the cooking process, which I suspect might deter a few of you. Don’t let this dissuade you. Think of it as an upper arm workout minus the trek to the gym; who am I kidding, I don’t go to the gym 🙂
1 small onion or 2-3 shallots, diced
1 pound of mixed mushrooms
butter and/or olive oil
2 teaspoons chopped fresh herbs (such as thyme, savory, rosemary)
2 garlic cloves minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 dry Sherry or Madeira
2 teaspoon all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken or mushroom stock
salt and pepper
parsley, chopped for garnish
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, season with salt, and saute until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Remove and set aside.
Increase the heat to medium-high. Add a little more olive oil and/or butter. Add the mushrooms (in two batches), season with salt and pepper, and saute until lightly browned. Remove and set aside. Repeat with the second batch of mushrooms, adding more olive oil and/or butter as needed.
Add the reserved onions and mushrooms to the skillet. Add the herbs and garlic. Add the tomato paste and stir 1 minute. Add the Sherry (or Madeira) and deglaze the pan, scraping any bits that stick to the bottom. Cook a couple of minutes until the Sherry is reduced.
Sprinkle in the flour and add the stock. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer over low heat, stirring from time to time, until the sauce is thick and reduced, about 10 minutes. Garnish with chopped parsley.
Crispy Polenta Squares
1 cup coarse polenta
4 cups water
1 1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs (such as thyme, savory, rosemary)
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 cup shredded cheese (used Gruyere)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Lightly butter an 8-inch square baking pan.
Bring 4 cups of water to a simmer in a medium pot. Slowly add 1 cup polenta, stirring with a whisk to combine. Cook over low heat and stir every few minutes for about 60 minutes until the grains are soft and hold their shape on the spoon. Don’t scrape the bottom of the pot when stirring. Let a crust form on the bottom and stir the polenta from above for the smoothest texture. As a rule, the longer you cook polenta the better it tastes.
After about 1 hour, whisk in the cheese, butter, salt and pepper. Pour the polenta into the prepared baking pan. Spread evenly. Refrigerate for at least an hour (up to 4 days).
Cut the polenta into squares.
Heat up a non-stick skillet with a little butter or olive oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add the polenta squares and cook 2-3 minutes until golden brown and crispy. Flip and repeat on the other side.