Now, That’s Italian

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: Parmigiano Reggiano

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)

NOTES:

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.

 

45 thoughts on “Now, That’s Italian

    1. Splendido, Crystal!

      Though, I must admit, my culinary appetite started on the boot, but soon drifted away from the Mediterranean completely, and soon crossed the Atlantic. How about Vaca Frita de Pollo? Let’s visit Little Havana, shall we?

      The lot of a culinary free spirit, to be distracted so easily!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks much, Tamara!

      Good decision, about seeing where this recipe will take you. Mushrooms offer various compensations, but you can’t beat buttons for a great all-purpose pleaser. They’re affordable and they always are available too.

      Plus, the polenta was much les trouble to prepare than I had feared. Take that step, Tamara, and your stomach will exult.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Much appreciated, Kate!

      Not for nothing do many recipes substitute portabellas for steak. They satisfy many of the same flavor profiles, and thus are ideal for those who don’t eat meat, are health-conscious, or who just fancy something different.

      Or D) All of the Above.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Your example has inspired me, Kate. Not to give up my beloved poultry and shellfish, mind you, but to move things in a more veg-friendly direction.

        That still accounts only for a few entries, but they’re more numerous than they were before. Plus, I am learning! Always learning.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. we will learn until the day we stop breathing!

        Sounds like a healthier diet … too much red meat can’t be healthy 🙂 My best friends sons have suddenly gone veggo … a big shock to me as they used to take the p out of me for being one and relished eating meat in front of me. Would never offend me, we all have different diets and beliefs 🙂

        Seems they watched some documentary which shocked them. Now they are experts 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Thyme is probably my favorite herb, if one can say such a silly sounding thing. For me it’s insta-gourmet for any dish!

    Have you ever done a taste test between Parmesan aged one year as opposed to three years? We did that once on my old beloved and now long gone job. It’s amazing the difference in taste and texture. I hear stories of Italians who age their Parmesan much longer than even that. Very interesting!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thyme is wonderfully forgiving, even of indifferent gardeners. The poorer the soil, it seems, the better it does. Many set it between walkway stones, as treading on it only makes it spread. Where does a plant get off acting like a weed?

      I’m relatively new to the cheese game, JoAnn, as until a few years ago, I was sure I didn’t like it. Now, I discovered some do have merit. Parmesan, I think, gets pride of place. To the point I use Reggiano only

      As far as aging is concerned, the grocer does offer pricier alternatives occasionally, aged “X” years. The next time it’s offered, I shall investigate. Thanks for the tip, JoAnn!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have grown Thyme before… and if I can grow it probably anyone can. Most herbs seem easy to grow, at least the ones I tried. I’m far from being an expert on plants though so the ones that are relatively error free are great!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Absolutely, JoAnn!

        Have you ever tried growing peppermint? It’s unstoppable around here.

        Then again, that may be due to the relatively mild northern climate. Perhaps getting it to take amidst orange groves may be more of a challenge.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. My dad used to grow mint in our yard but I’ve never tried to grow it myself. Not sure how it would do in a warm climate. Might be better to grow it inside 🌱 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      4. That’s a good idea, JoAnn. That way, even if the mint gets hyperactive, the pot will limit how far it’ll go. Outside is much more of a gamble.

        When I was a kid, I remember wild mint growing all along the banks of creeks and streams. In fact, the two are inseparable in my mind. Mention of mint always brings to mind cool shade and a burbling brook. Quite a happy memory, actually.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Lovely Italian dish! We can’t get enough of the various types of delicious mushrooms around here, they’re one of our favorite members of the vegetable group on the MyPlate. (Kind of funny they were put in the vegetable group considering they are not actually vegetables… I suppose they needed to be fit somewhere. lol)

    I’m completely with you that grating your own parm is infinitely better than the stuff in the green can. In full disclosure, sometimes I do cheat and get the blocks that were grated in the refrigerator section. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. No shame in that, Summer, as you do recognize the difference and strive for the best whenever practical. A reasonable description of “foodie,” if you ask me.

      How I envy you your selection of fungi. Stocks locally are beginning to recover from the March and April mobs, though buttons, creminis and shitakes are the only varieties available routinely. Fortunately, it’ll be a while before I trot out the donabe for a recipe, giving the stores time to acquire once again beech mushrooms.

      By the way, Summer, have you ever tried truffles? If so, what did you think?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hasn’t it, though? Sure, eventually, much will return to the way it always was (until March 2020, that is), but a few “new normals” are here to stay.

        As for truffles, I’ve had truffle butter before, and it made for an exquisite spread, but the truffles really didn’t distinguish themselves.

        Still, I’m considering buying some truffles to try in a recipe I found in “The Nero Wolfe Cookbook.” Still, I still haven’t quite gotten my head around spending $60 for small jar.

        Not yet, at least. Give me some time – I’m still working on myself.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I probably spend a bit more than the average person on food. I am guessing, based on our communications, that you are similar. I have a feeling the truffles will be in your possession before too long. Haha

        I’m really wondering how many of these new normals will continue into 2021. The fairs and food contests I wanted to participate in have been canceled this year. If they wait too many years, I’m going to have enough material to write a cookbook. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Oh Summer, you know me all to well! I’ll pretend to balk at spending on truffles, but we both know how that discussion is going to go. The allure of new culinary adventures is too enticing!

        Let’s hope the cooking hiatus doesn’t last years, else you’ll have to jettison half your recipes in favor of devoting seven chapters to an explanation of what a “fair” or a “food contest” was.

        Unless, of course, you plan to go all out and make your volume into a new “Joy of Cooking” for our generation. All seventeen pounds of it. God save the foodie who buys both “Joy” and the Summer Yule volume. Knock the Earth right off its orbit, those two books will.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. We will, won’t we? In fact, spoiler alert, truffles should make an appearance before we change out too many more calendars.

        Because menus are planned so far in advance, if something has a lengthy-to-indefinite shelf life, I may buy it now, though its turn won’t come, maybe, until 2023! I have the money, the item’s currently available, and a couple years spent in a cool dark place won’t diminish its quality, so why not? Of course, this applies to dry goods only. Anything even slightly perishable and not utterly freezer-friendly is acquired the week of, and usually, the day of.

        Why not just use that special item now, instead of waiting until autumn 2021? Everything is planned so exquisitely, with the seasons and taking into account what’s sure to be perfect at that particular moment, if I start monkeying with the system, after not too many switches the whole structure will collapse!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes, never get the parm in the can! It is not even parm. Also your polenta looks lovely. I can smell the umami fron here. I am craving for mushrooms more. We have not had it in a while because it is not showing in the shops.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks much!

      Without a doubt, mushroom have been in hiding lately. Once, even, I tried growing my own, and that didn’t turn out so well. There are encouraging signs supplies are rebounding, slowly, but it’s going to take a while.

      In the meantime, we’ll find ways to make do with what’s available currently, and to dream of more plentiful days ahead.

      We’ll get one another through the scarcity – it’s the foodie ethos!

      Like

    1. Thanks, Jenn!

      One of the two Beetle House recipes still in the running for Halloween features mushrooms. So, which one will make the cut (as it were)? The next month will solve that riddle, and October will reveal all.

      Liked by 1 person

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