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Baked Polenta with Mushrooms

Baked polenta layered with mushrooms is the perfect side dish with pot roast, beef stew or braised chicken. This polenta is partially cooked on top of the stove and then is finished in the oven, which substantially reduces the amount of time required to stir the boiling polenta by hand. It will emerge from the oven soft and creamy with an attractive golden crown. Use any finely milled cornmeal, either the type for making corn bread or the Italian cornmeal often sold simply as polenta. Coarse-ground or stone-ground cornmeal is also suitable, but will require 1 cup more water for the first stage of cooking.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped  
  • 1 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil 
  • 1/2 lb. white mushrooms, brushed clean, stems removed and caps coarsely chopped 
  • 1/4 lb. cremini mushrooms, brushed clean, stems removed and caps coarsely chopped 
  • 1/4 lb. fresh shiitake mushrooms, brushed clean, stems removed and caps coarsely chopped 
  • 1 Tbs. tomato paste 
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt, or more, to taste 
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste 
  • 1 1/2 cups 1-percent-fat milk 
  • 1 cup fine yellow cornmeal 
  • 3 cups water
  • 4 Tbs. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese 

Directions:

Combine the parsley and garlic on a cutting board and chop together finely. Set aside.

Place a large fry pan over medium-high heat until hot enough for a drop of water to sizzle and then immediately evaporate. Add the 1 Tbs. olive oil and tilt the pan to coat the bottom evenly. Add all the mushrooms and cook, stirring, until lightly browned and softened, about 10 minutes. Add the parsley-garlic mixture and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the tomato paste until blended. Stir in the salt and pepper. Remove from the heat.

Preheat an oven to 400°F. Oil an 8-inch square or other shallow, 1 1/2-quart baking dish with the 1 tsp. olive oil.

Pour the milk into a large bowl. Gradually add the cornmeal, stirring until smooth. In a saucepan over high heat, bring the water to a boil. Gradually stir the cornmeal mixture into the water. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring, until the cornmeal is very thick and pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 15 minutes. (Be careful, as the hot polenta can bubble and spatter.) Stir in 2 Tbs. of the cheese. Remove from the heat.

Using a rubber spatula, spread half of the polenta evenly in the prepared baking dish. Spoon the mushrooms evenly on top. Spoon the remaining polenta on top and spread in a smooth layer. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 Tbs. cheese.

Bake the polenta until puffed and golden, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand for 15 minutes before serving.

Serve the polenta directly from the baking dish, scooping it out with a large spoon or a spatula. The polenta will be soft, but will stiffen upon standing. Serves 6.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma, Essentials of Healthful Cooking, by Mary Abbott Hess, Dana Jacobi & Marie Simmons (Oxmoor House, 2003).