One of the things I miss most about living in the UK aside from the obvious, that being our glorious British climate; is the close proximity to the rest of Europe.
Gone are those days where a long weekend for me might have involved shopping, eating and sightseeing around Paris; sipping horchata and relaxing in front of a cafe in Ibiza or gorging myself on food such as this dish below, in Florence.
Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be but as it still generates longing, here’s a delicious Tuscan recipe that combines two of my favorite ingredients, porcini and polenta.
Making polenta is straightforward but takes a bit of muscle. On the other hand, you can choose to cheat and buy one of those plastic sausages of ready-made polenta or instant polenta mix in a box.
I prefer to make it from scratch (recipe below). I particularly like the thrill of the intermittent volcanic eruptions thrown up by the hot polenta – and the way my arms really ache after vigorously stirring the increasingly stiffening porridge for 20 mins.
However, its well worth this effort for a superior end result but if time is an issue and you’re afraid of burns, cheat. Or serve it with fettucini instead. Just as good but not quite as ‘Tuscan farmhouse’.
Vegetarians; leave out the sausage and increase the quantity of fresh mushrooms.
The usual notes at the end.
POLENTA with a WILD MUSHROOM SAUCE – ‘Polenta con ragu di funghi porcini’
(Serves six to eight)
1 ½ oz / 43g of dried porcini mushrooms
1lb / 454g sweet Italian sausage (pork or turkey) – preferably ones made with fennel seed
2 tablespoons of extra-v olive oil
1 med sized onion, finely chopped
1 med sized carrot, finely chopped or grated
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
6oz / 170g small portabella/brown chestnut mushrooms, sliced
¼ cup finely chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
One 28oz / 795g can of plum tomatoes with their juice, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon of fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly milled black pepper
To serve: the best quality parmesan (parmigiani reggiano); grated or shaved
Cover the dried porcini with very warm water and set aside for 20 mins.
Slice the sausages half an inch thick. In a heavy skillet over a medium heat, sauté the sausage slices in 2 tablespoons of olive oil stirring frequently until no longer pink. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
Pour the porcini mushrooms and their soaking liquid through a paper towel-lined strainer; reserve the liquid, finely chop the mushrooms and add to the strained liquid. Set aside.
In the same skillet that the sausage was cooked in, gently sauté the onion, carrot, celery and parsley until softened (not browned) then add the sliced fresh mushrooms. Sauté until the mushrooms are cooked through. Add the fresh sage, rosemary and chopped canned tomatoes with their juice.
Simmer gently, uncovered for about 25 mins, then add the sausage and chopped porcini with their soaking liquid. Continue to cook uncovered for another 20 mins or so, until the sauce is very thick. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary.
If you want to serve it over pasta, ignore the polenta recipe below and serve with freshly grated or shaved parmigiani reggiano and another scattering of chopped Italian parsley.
If you’re serving it with cheat’s polenta (the fat plastic sausage containing ready-made stuff), heat it any way you like – I recommend grilling, see below.
You don’t have to grill cooked polenta in a skillet but I prefer mine served that way…..so, for you cooks with time on your hands and strong biceps, continue:
POLENTA (enough for this recipe)
Bring 6 cups of water to a rolling boil, add 1 tablespoon of sea salt then reduce to a simmer.
Stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, slowly pour in 1½ cups of polenta (coarsely ground cornmeal). Keep up this stirring action for the next 20 minutes.
As it cooks, this will feel more and more like a workout for your arms and it will spit hot cornmeal at you so wear an oven glove on your stirring hand. Don’t stop stirring or lumps will form on the bottom.
You’ll end up with a thick porridge-like mass. Throw in about 2 oz / 56g butter and beat well. Taste a small amount to make sure there’s no gritty, uncooked cornmeal left and turn off the heat.
Either let it rest for a couple of minutes then turn onto a wooden board for cutting and serve it right away with the sauce on top…
the way I prefer it; immediately pour the lot into an oiled, straight-sided baking pan; quickly smooth the top and allow to cool (Make it ahead to this point).
When you’re read to serve it, invert the cold polenta onto a cutting board and slice it into triangles or squares about ½ inch thick. Brush both sides with olive oil and grill in a very hot, ridge-bottomed grill pan until it bears grill marks on both sides.
You can do this with polenta-in-a-plastic-tube from the supermarket but pat it dry first as its very wet.
Arrange the grilled polenta on a plate, pile the mushroom sauce on top and serve with shaved or grated parmigiani reggiano and a sprinkle of chopped Italian parsley.
Leftover sliced polenta will freeze, as will the sauce.
Dried porcini mushrooms are available in delis/good supermarkets.
As mentioned in a previous blog; if you know me and are nice to me I may give you some porcini from my personal stash – handpicked and dried by moi last August. However, I should point out that my supply is finite and if we don’t have what looks to be a promising 2011 season, this offer will be withdrawn.
I recommend being nice, regardless!
I used baby portabellas rather than the massive ones because they make the sauce darker and a bit sinister looking. Both taste good so it’s up to you.
I have one of those George Foreman lean mean grilling machines but it doesn’t get hot enough to create nice scorch marks on the polenta, so I use a cast iron ridge-bottomed grill pan. You can pick one up for under $20 in Wal-Mart but be aware it needs to be seasoned before you use it. Seasoning instructions come with the pan.
Whether you serve the sauce with pasta or polenta, buon appetito!
(Adapted from a Nancy Harmon Jenkins recipe)