Friday, 25 January 2013

Polenta with Sauteed Mushroom

Polenta is an ancient traditional Italian peasant dish, made in huge quantities at a wood burning fire place in a blackened suspended cauldron to feed large growing families.
It is a dish where grandmothers stood hovering over this large bubbling pot, while the firewood crackled near their long black skirts, stirring continuously so that the precious grains wouldn't stick to the bottom and burn!
After an hour of arduous stirring with a large wooden paddle, the molten hot polenta would have been additionally seasoned at the end of its cooking time with salty, freshly grated Parmegiano Reggiano, lending a creamy and nutty flavour to the polenta, amalgamating all of the ingredients together into a thick porridge. The fragrance emitting from the kitchen, to the outside of the home would have let the neighbour's know what was being cooked for lunch. 
When the polenta was ready and all of the grains were plump and soft, it would have been scooped out and spread into a Shiva, a 2'x16" long wooden platter with edges, to prevent the porridge from spilling over the sides.
The platter was so long and wide that a multitude of toppings could be spread on top!  My favourite would have been a long slow cooking tomato sauce with chunks of stewing beef, pork ribs, and mushrooms. A generous sprinkling of Parmegiano Reggiano cheese topped the fragrant meat sauce. It was and still is indispensable in an Italian household for adding flavour and intensity. 
Everyone would gather around with their forks and dig into their "spot".
This is how the family would have shared this type of meal many years ago. Leftovers if there were any, would have stayed in the Shiva and anyone walking by could scoop out a portion straight into their mouths!
You knew it was a special occasion because the cooking and fire burning was such an arduous task that this dish was only made perhaps once a month on a Sunday, the day of rest!
These memories are still so vivid to me as if they happened yesterday. As I write I can still see my  grandmother stooped over the blackened pot stirring in circular motions as her skirt flitted back and forth with her movement. The sparks of the fire threateningly close by her worn and well loved apron!

The polenta (corn) grains are now much more refined and easier to cook and technology has enabled us to speed the process making magnificent meals within minutes instead of hours. I can make polenta any night of the week, using a multitude of toppings!
This dish is easy, fast, fragrant and nutritious!
On a cold winters night it is my comfort food.

1 cup medium grind yellow corn meal
750ml chicken or vegetable broth
2 tbsp Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated
1  1/2 cup chopped button mushrooms
2 cup kale, blanched for 5 min.,cooled (or rapini, swiss chard)
2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 red peper, seeded and diced
salt & pepper to taste
Stir the corn meal into the broth while the broth is cold. Place pot on a burner and turn onto high heat. Continue stirring until broth almost comes to a boil.  Meanwhile place another pot slightly bigger than the polenta pot on another burner.  Fill with 1-2" of water, bring water to a boil.

When the polenta starts to thicken place it inside the larger boiling pot of water creating a double boiler. Immediately reduce the heat to a simmer.  Cover the top pot to hold in steam and continue cooking stirring occasionally for 30-40min.   This double boiler method prevents any lumps from occurring.  Add lots of cheese then taste for seasoning. Stir and keep warm until ready to serve. Approximately 10minutes before the polenta is ready begin to make the topping.


Drizzle 2 tbsp oil into a preheated med. skillet and drop in mushrooms and peppers.  Add a pinch of salt and pepper, to taste. This begins to let mushrooms release moisture creating a sauce.  Add garlic, cook for 1 min on med. heat to golden.  Add greens and raise the heat to med. high (#6).  Stir while cooking until some moisture evaporates 5-10min.  Turn off heat when greens are cooked tender and there is some moisture still in the pan to top the polenta.  If it dries out add a small amount of wine, broth or water.

Spoon out a cup of polenta onto a plate and top with sauce.

Serves 3-4 people side dish or 2 as a main

Enjoy with love

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