Polenta: When Meal Makes the Meal

Sometimes I fantasize there’s a CSA Merit Badge for incorporating multiple sharebox items into a single dish.

I had a four-bagger a couple months ago. One of the winter season’s final boxes included shitake and crimini mushrooms, red sorrel, a head of garlic, and a bag of Castle Valley Mill polenta. I guess technically that’s five items. Even better.

A quick run to DiBruno Brothers for some cheese, and Hello, Greens and Roasted Mushrooms over Creamy Polenta. So very nice to meet you.

I’ve since made it several more times, with different kinds of mushrooms (portabello, shitake, crimini, oyster), different leaves (spinach, chard, and kale), alongside different wines (Dolcetto, Weißer Burgunder, Arneis), on its own as a meat-free meal, and as an accompaniment to a pork roast. So, so good. And, despite polenta’s fussy mystique, so, so simple.

It’s been a few weeks since I had it, though. So when I saw that the Co-op‘s preview of our next delivery listed mushrooms, rainbow chard, and garlic scapes, I knew what I’d be making for dinner Tuesday.

Doylestown's Castle Valley Mill makes delicious, nutty polenta. Their grits are pretty great, too.
Doylestown’s Castle Valley Mill makes delicious,
nutty polenta. Their grits are pretty great, too.

Greens and Roasted Mushrooms over Creamy Polenta

Makes 3-5 servings, depending on whether you’re using this as a meatless entree or as a side. I swear by Marcella Hazan’s “no-stir method” laid out in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. It’s a bit of a misnomer, because you do indeed have to stir, but you do so only every 10 minutes instead of constantly, which means you’re not lashed to the stovetop for 45 solid minutes. 

  • 1 pound of mushrooms, sliced medium-thin
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1-2 tbsp minced shallot, green garlic, garlic, or scape (or a combo)
  • 1 tsp each minced sage, rosemary, thyme
  • handful of greens (such as red sorrel, arugula, spinach, chard, or young kale), washed and trimmed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • black pepper
  • a squeeze of juice from a good-sized lemon wedge
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup polenta
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2-3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/2 lb Appenzeller or similar mountain-style cheese, coarsely shredded or chopped

I’ll list the preps separately, but it’s easy to work on both the mushrooms and the polenta at the same time since each process has big chunks of down time.

For the Mushrooms

Preheat oven to 425°.

Toss the mushrooms, oil, aromatics, and herbs together in a roasting pan (wide and shallow is better, since you want the mushrooms in a single layer, if possible). Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 20-30 minutes, stirring at the 10-minute mark, just so they don’t stick. The mushrooms should be soft and browned—but try to stop before they start to get dry and crispy.

After you pull them out of the oven, spritz them with the lemon. Add the greens to the pan (just scatter them atop the mushrooms) and cover it with foil. The greens will wilt perfectly, and the mushrooms will stay warm while you finish up the polenta.

Chop, toss, and roast. Even without the polenta, this is an easy, killer side or topper.
Chop, toss, and roast. Even without the polenta,
this is an easy, killer side or topper for meat or pasta.
For the Polenta

In a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed pot, set the 4 cups of water to boil.

When the water’s rolling, add the salt. Measure the polenta into a small bowl and set it within easy reach of the pot. Grab a fistful of the cornmeal, and let a very thin stream run through your fist into the boiling water. Whisk, whisk, whisk. Don’t rush it. But unless you have G. Gordon Liddy hands, mind the steam so you don’t burn yourself. Grab another fistful, and stream and whisk until the whole cup is in the pot.

Polenta by hand. Literally. Grab a fistful and let it slowly stream into the pot.
Polenta by hand. Literally. Grab a fistful
and let it slowly stream into the pot.

Swap out your whisk now for a wooden spoon, and stir vigorously for a good two minutes. Adjust the heat down to a simmer, cover the pot, and set your timer for 10 minutes.

When you get the signal, uncover the pot and stir again, pulling the polenta in from the sides of the pot, for one minute. Re-cover, and set the timer for another 10 minutes.

Repeat the simmer-stir cycle twice more after that, for a total of 40 minutes cooking time.

You’re so close to done.

Maxx Extra: Appenzeller style, semi-firm, a little funky and a lot nutty. Perfect melter. Great call from cheesemonger Samantha at DiBruno's 9th Street.
Maxx Extra: Appenzeller-style, semi-firm, a little funky
and a lot nutty. Perfect melter. Great call from
my cheesemonger Samantha at DiBruno’s 9th Street.

Stir in a couple tablespoons of unsalted butter. Once that’s melted, add the cheese and stir until it’s all incorporated.

Stir it up, little darlin'
A bit of butter and a bunch of cheese.

Serve immediately (in warmed bowls is best). Spoon the mushrooms and greens on top.

Best dish I've made in a good, long while.
Best dish I’ve made in a good, long while.
What to drink?

You’ve got lots of great options here. Dolcetto, one of the everyday rosso varietals from Piemonte, is a natural pairing with both polenta and mushrooms (it is truffle country, after all). Anna Maria Abbona’s little Langhe Dolcetto is juicy, bright, and the perfect weight, especially if you’re keeping this a meatless meal. But I’m also a huge fan of northern whites with this dish. Try a Pinot Blanc from Alsace, Switzerland, or Germany (where it’ll be called Weißer Burgunder). Or, heading back to Piemonte, check out Arneis, the dominant white grape of the Barolo zone.

Pinot Blanc provides a beautiful, bright counterpoint to creamy, cheesy polenta and earthy mushrooms.
Pinot Blanc provides a beautiful, bright counterpoint to creamy, cheesy polenta and earthy mushrooms.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Dale says:

    Great wrecipe writing. Liddy? Really?

    1. Susan says:

      That was just for you, buddy.

  2. Marcy says:

    Here’s my count: From the CSA – mushrooms, scapes in the polenta. Peas on the side. Salad with lettuce and fennel. 5!! Fresh herbs from the garden. And we had an Arneis. Nice meal—thanks

    1. Susan says:

      Winner, winner, CSA dinner!

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