This baked polenta with mushrooms recipe layers firm rounds of polenta with sautéed wild mushrooms in a crème fraîche sauce.
My search for ways to use up my recent glut of St. George's mushrooms has led me to today's dish – rounds of firm-set baked polenta with sautéed wild mushrooms in a gorgeous crème fraîche sauce. Stone-ground polenta (it must be stone-ground to really be considered a whole grain) is a fabulously satisfying starch and has the added benefit of being naturally gluten-free.
I am eating healthier than at any other time in my life at the moment. I have been consciously upping the quantity of vegetables and low-sugar fruits I consume, and have switched almost entirely to whole grains. But the only way I can even consider maintaining this life-affirming change is by making it absolutely delicious – meals full of mouth-watering ingredients and preparations with not a hint of deprivation. One of the most important things I realised about healthy eating, was that it's not about giving up the things you love. Nothing is going to make those foods more attractive than the idea that they are banned. Rather I have tried to cram my diet with foods that I love, which just happen to be healthy. The less healthy foods, while still available and still eaten when I fancy, are crowded out by the healthier options.
This dish contains crème fraîche, which has the potential to be rather heavy, but it is well watered down in a rich mushroom stock and is far outweighed by the whole grain polenta, the crushed garlic and the plentiful wild mushrooms (you can, of course, substitute cultivated mushrooms as necessary). I did add a small amount of strongly flavoured cheese, but this is very much optional - the mushroom sauce packs so much fantastic flavour that the dish up stands perfectly well on its own.
To make this vegan, finish the sauce with a little coconut or soy cream. A very light touch of lemon juice will help to add the subtle tartness of crème fraîche.
The rounds are made by cooking the polenta with a 1 to 4 liquid ratio, spreading it out on a couple of baking tins, then cutting out rounds with a biscuit cutter or some other similarly shaped object. Don't worry, the bits in between the cut outs won't go to waste - you can use them on the bottom layers. Wet polenta doesn't stick to anything you pour it onto, so don't bother with baking paper. I used paper to separate the layers of rounds after I had cut them, but that was only because I wasn't using them until the next day and I wanted to stack them on top of each other to save space in the fridge.
The wild mushroom sauce is made by combining two of my favourite techniques for pulling maximum tastiness out of mushrooms. Firstly, the mushrooms are sautéed dry in a hot pan to brown and caramelise them - the searing generates fantastically concentrated flavours. Secondly (once the mushrooms have been set aside), water and wine is added to the pan to deglaze (read a whole post dedicated to this technique here) and garlic is added to gently stew in the newly created stock. Once the garlic is well and truly softened and fragrant (about 15 minutes on low heat), the mushrooms are returned to the pan to stew with the garlic and release the very last of their juices into the sauce base.
The resulting wild mushroom broth is something special and can be finished as you fancy, depending on the recipe. Here a couple of tablespoons of crème fraîche is added to bring a little richness to the sauce - it will still be a liquidy sauce, not thick and creamy. But it will soak into the polenta beautifully and you will marvel at the stunning amount of flavour that has been generated from so few ingredients.
Baked polenta with wild mushrooms – warming, filling and nutritious; creamy and garlicky, with incredible umami flavour. That sounds like autumn to me...
Baked polenta with wild mushrooms
Firm Polenta Rounds
- 150 g stone-ground polenta
- 1 lightly heaped tablespoon vegetable stock paste
- 600 g water
Wild Mushroom Sauce
- 400 g St. George's mushrooms or other mushrooms
- 5 cloves garlic crushed
- 100 ml dry drinkable, white wine
- 100 ml water
- handful fresh herbs I used thyme and basil
- 100 g crème fraîche substitute for vegan
- few scrapes whole nutmeg
- sea salt to taste
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 100 g strong cheese I used Swedish cheese, Oviken Himmelsraften, sliced (optional)
- The cooking of polenta is a contentious issue that need not be explored in any great depth here. I use a Thermomix (see method here), but for the vast majority of my readers that do not have access to such an appliance, I instead refer you to this extremely comprehensive article on the best way to cook it. I suggest that you use the ingredients I have listed as they are specific to this application, but apply the recommended method.
- When the polenta is cooked, spread it out thinly on a couple of baking trays (or similar), using an off-set spatula. Allow to firm up (this happens pretty quickly). Cut out rounds (or other shapes as desired) with a biscuit cutter or some other implement. Set aside.
- Cut the mushrooms to your size and shape preference and sauté in a single layer in a dry pan, preheated to medium-high heat. You want to sear the mushrooms on all sides. The liquid should be exuded and evaporate pretty much as soon as it hits the pan surface - you may need to do this in batches. Set the mushrooms aside and turn the pan down to low.
- Add the water and wine to the pan and scrape to deglaze. Add the garlic and stew very gently until very soft and fragrant, at least 20 minutes. If the liquid evaporates completely, the heat may be a little high, but you can just add some more water and continue cooking. Cooking the garlic slowly for this long greatly softens its bite and draws out a lot of deep flavour.
- Return the mushrooms to the pan, cover and cook for a further 10 minutes (adding a little extra liquid if necessary). Stir in the crème fraîche (or vegan substitute) and herbs, then season with nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.
- Starting with mushrooms, layer sauce and polenta rounds with a little cheese on one or two of the layers if using. I used an oven-proof dish about 30cm in diameter. Use the in-between cut out pieces of polenta on the bottom layers and finish with a neat arrangement of polenta rounds on the top. Sprinkle or layer a little more cheese on top if using.
- Bake uncovered in a 200c oven for about 30 minutes, until bubbling around the edges.