When dining at an Italian restaurant, do experiment with polenta, this delightful boiled cornmeal dish that one typically encounters in northeast Italy. There are many varieties – some far too dry for my taste – but most are delicious when paired with pork, beef or wild game.
While my husband adores “toasted” polenta with sausage, I prefer a creamy polenta that often accompanies stews and pork dishes. To cook polenta properly, it needs about 30 minutes on the oven with continuous stirring. As the cornmeal boils it pops, often causing a bit of mess on your stove.
To cut down on the mess, I often bake the polenta using an inspired recipe from Claire Saffitz of Bon Appetit. The mushrooms are optional but desirable.
Oven Polenta with Roasted Mushrooms and Thyme
- 1½ lb. mixed mushrooms such as crimini, shiitake, oyster, and/or maitake, torn into 1″ pieces
- 4 sprigs thyme plus leaves for serving
- 6 garlic cloves smashed
- Kosher salt freshly ground pepper
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
- 1 cup polenta
- 4 oz. Parmesan finely grated, plus more for serving
- 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
- Flaky sea salt
- Place racks in upper and lower thirds of oven; preheat to 325°. Combine mushrooms, thyme sprigs, and garlic on a large rimmed baking sheet. Season generously with kosher salt and pepper; drizzle with oil. Toss to coat mushrooms, then spread out in an even layer. (Make sure not to crowd the mushrooms on the baking sheet; otherwise, they’ll steam instead of getting crispy.) Transfer to upper rack in oven and let mushrooms roast while you prepare polenta.
- Bring 4½ cups water to a simmer in a large ovenproof saucepan over medium-high heat. Add butter and a generous pinch of kosher salt and whisk to melt butter. Gradually add polenta, whisking constantly. (Gradually incorporating the polenta into the water is key to preventing clumps.) Return mixture to a boil, immediately cover pot, and transfer to lower rack in oven. Bake polenta, shaking baking sheet with mushrooms occasionally, until polenta is tender, 25–30 minutes.
- Remove polenta from oven. Crank up oven temperature as high as it will go (but don’t broil). Continue to cook mushrooms until crisp around the edges, 5–10 minutes longer.
- Meanwhile, carefully uncover polenta and whisk vigorously, scraping bottom of pan, until polenta is smooth and thick. Gradually add 4 oz. Parmesan, whisking constantly until melted and incorporated; taste and season with more kosher salt and pepper. Cover and keep warm over low heat while mushrooms finish roasting.
- Remove mushrooms from oven; drizzle with vinegar. Toss to coat; let cool slightly.
- Divide polenta among bowls and top with mushrooms, thyme leaves, sea salt, and more Parmesan.