Or so it would seem, with polenta forming a creamy base and Parmigiano Reggiano topping it all with a salty tanginess. With just a few ingredients and requiring less non-stop attention than cooking a proper polenta usually demands, Oven Polenta with Roasted Mushrooms and Thyme became a keeper when Bon Appetit featured it in the October 2018 number.
As wonderful, and indispensable, as the polenta and the parmigiano are, mushrooms are the main attraction. Three different varieties to be exact: crimini, oyster and shitake. The ultimate in their wonderful savor, the trio of mushrooms rewards the taster with a tide of perfect umami.
Is it permissible to use a Japanese word to describe an Italian (or at least Italian-inspired) dish? Certainly, if that word is the most fitting, and concise, term that exists. “Umami” is, and besides, one of the mushroom varieties is shitake, so…
By the way, one of the secrets to a superlative preparation is to avoid that dreadful stuff (alleged to be cheese) in the green can. Instead, take the time to grate fresh parmesan, both to add to the polenta as it cooks, and to be sprinkled on top before serving. You’ll be so glad you did. And why not use the best? Here’s some of the Parmigiano Reggiano that made today’s dish soar:
The mushroom’s savor is particularly appealing when garlic, thyme and pepper accent it. More than just “appealing.” it’s divine, particularly when that magical essence is absorbed into the polenta during service.
No meat in this one. The cliché that, “you won’t even miss the meat” usually isn’t quite true, and it really doesn’t apply here either. Perhaps not for the reasons you’d expect, though. There’s nothing to “miss;” meat just would get in the way. Mushrooms have all the richness, satisfying substance, and yes, umami, a good cut of steak enjoys. Plus they’re much healthier.
Today’s dish may draw inspiration from many sources, but there’s no denying its soul is Italian. What a fitting tribute to Parmigiano Reggiano.
Oven Polenta with Roasted Mushrooms and Thyme
- 1/2 pound each (or 1 and 1/2 pounds total) of three types of mushroom, torn into 1-inch pieces (*1)
- 4 sprigs thyme, plus more for serving
- 6 garlic cloves, smashed
- salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup polenta
- 4 ounces parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Remove all but two racks from the oven, leaving one at the highest level and the other at the lowest. Preheat to 325 degrees.
Combine mushrooms, garlic and thyme sprigs on a large, rimmed cooking sheet. Season generously with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Toss to coat, then spread out to an even layer. Transfer baking sheet to the oven’s higher rack.
Fill a medium saucepan with 4 and 1/2 cups of water and place it over a medium-high flame. Add butter and a generous pinch of salt, whisking until the butter melts. Gradually add the polenta, whisking constantly. Once mixture boils, cover saucepan with a lid and transfer it to the oven’s lower rack.
Bake polenta for 25 minutes, shaking baking sheet with mushrooms occasionally.
Remove saucepan with polenta to the stovetop, then increase oven temperature to its highest “non-broil” level. (*2)
Meanwhile, carefully lift the lid on the saucepan and stir the polenta, scraping the pan bottom, until it’s smooth. Gradually add the parmesan cheese, whisking constantly to incorporate. Season with salt and pepper, the replace cover.
Remove mushrooms from the oven and drizzle with red wine vinegar. Toss to coat and let cool slightly.
Divide polenta into individual serving bowls, then cover with mushrooms. Garnish with fresh thyme sprigs and grate parmesan cheese over all. Sprinkle with coarse salt and serve. (*3)
1 – As the intro explains, I chose crimini, oyster and shitake mushrooms. Maitake or even portabella mushrooms would be good options too. Go light on the “tearing,” as the mushrooms shrink considerably as they cook. In fact, unless you’re using extra large mushrooms such as portabellas, not much “downsizing” will be necessary.
2 – Which was 550 degrees on my oven. Your experience could differ.
3 – A modest sprinkle of salt adds interesting taste and texture. Be careful, though, as the parmesan already is salty enough for two.