Saturday, 8 January 2011

ITALIANATE MUSHROOMS AND POLENTA

I make this quite often, to remind me of a holiday spent in Riva del Garda, a picturesque Medieval town on the shores of Lake Garda. One evening we found a little restaurant, tucked away off the main tourist trail, up a cobbled twitchell. The menu was simple, and most of the main courses dishes were rich, pungent stews made with venison, wild boar, or mushrooms. Everything was served with fluffy polenta.

Polenta can be tricky to get right, and I admit I've had a few disasters with it in the past. The trick is to keep stirring it, and to add lots of butter and seasoning. Fluffy, or "wet", polenta, should have a consistency similar to mashed potato. Set polenta can be sliced and deep-fried. In the Trentino region of Italy, it is traditional to serve the polenta with a slab of Taleggio cheese melting over it, and then pile the stew on top.

I use big, flat field mushrooms, or Portobello mushrooms, for this dish. They have a meaty texture and lots of flavour, but be warned: mushrooms have a habit of shrinking when cooked, so it's worth over-estimating the quantities. Any left over can be fried for breakfast with scrambled eggs! I also bear in mind a quote from the film 'Julie, Julia' - "Don't crowd the mushrooms!". Mushrooms cook better if allowed plenty of room - hence, "mush-room". Ha ha de ha ha.

This simple supper dish needs nothing more than a green salad and a good bottle of wine (Valpolicella, tonight, I think).

About 6 big flat field mushrooms, halved and then sliced
2 large cloves of garlic, cut into slivers
approx 50g of butter
100g cream
Truffle oil - optional
Salt & pepper
Lots of freshly grated Parmeson
A couple of slabs of Taleggio cheese, or similar (optional)
750g polenta

Heat the butter in a large frying pan and add the mushrooms and garlic. Cook until just tender, season with salt, and set aside. Just before serving, heat again and add the cream to make a sauce. Add a dash of truffle oil to really enhance the mushroom flavour.

Cook the polenta according to the instructions on the packet. Spoon onto plates, lay a slice of Taleggio on top, and finish off with the mushroom mixture. Sprinkle over plenty of fresh Parmesan. Bon appetito!

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