Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mushroom Ragu over Creamy Polenta ~ Lots of Mushrooms, Marsala Wine & Fresh Herbs Over Soft Polenta

What's so appealing about plain old mushrooms? Oh boy, I can go on until the cows-come-home about them and most other food related subjects.  But, I'll spare you of my mushroom ramblings and just stick to the basics. They're easy to prepare. They're always fresh and available. Mushrooms are a good, economical substitute for meat. Most importantly, they're delicious.

Mushroom ragu over polenta is one example of just how good they can be. I saw this recipe in December's Fine Cooking magazine. Shiitake and cremini mushrooms are sauteed in a little olive oil until they release their glorious juices. A generous splash of dry Marsala wine, creates another layer of smoky flavor. Finally, the mushrooms are anointed with a touch of half and half. Oh yeah, we're heading in the right direction now! The half and half  helps thicken the sauce and give it some richness.

But, it gets even better... creamy Mascarpone cheese is stirred into instant polenta The ragu is poured over the soft polenta and the whole meal is garnished with a flurry of fresh thyme. Thyme adds a welcome herbal hit to this  savory dish. This is my idea of Italian comfort food. Dear reader, this is goooood eating! Please try it if you love mushrooms.

Mushroom Ragu Over Creamy Polenta Recipe

Some Notes: 

I like fresh thyme in this recipe. But rosemary, chives, oregano or even parsley would  also work.

Mascarpone cheese is oh-so-delicious in polenta, but leave it out if you desire a lighter meal.
This dish is best served as soon as it's done because the polenta will harden as it cools. Don't let that alarm you. It'll still taste pretty great. I use instant polenta for ease of preparation.

I like thickening the sauce with a little cornstarch and water solution. You don't have to do this. But the corn starch adds a glossy sheen and it thickens the sauce.

Cremini mushrooms or regular white button mushrooms are both delicious here.

This is a beautiful meal on its own or perhaps paired with a simple green salad tossed with some lemon juice and olive oil.

Serves 4-6

You'll Need:
  • 2 16 oz packages of cremini mushrooms or white button mushrooms, sliced thinly
  • 4 oz package of shiitake mushrooms, sliced thinly 
  • 1 oz package of dried porcini mushrooms 
  • 1 clove of minced garlic. I use a microplane zester for this.
  • 1 lemon, zest it and reserve the zest
  • 1 bunch of fresh thyme or herb of your choice 
  • Instant polenta, prepared according to the package directions. 
  • 1/4 cup of dry Marsala wine
  • 4 tablespoons of mascarpone cheese
  • 4 tablespoons of half and half
  • 1 tablespoon of cornstarch mixed with one tablespoon of cold water to thicken the sauce.
  • Olive oil for cooking 
  • Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
  • Parmesan cheese for garnishing (optional)  

The Rundown:
  1. Put the dried porcini mushrooms in a small bowl and cover them with very hot or boiling water. Let them soak until they become soft. Drain them, but reserve their soaking liquid. Dice the mushrooms into very small pieces.
  2. Saute the porcini, cremini and shiiake mushrooms in a large deep pot in olive oil with salt and pepper on medium or medium high heat. Cover and stir until the mushrooms release their liquid. Then add the Marsala wine, garlic, lemon zest and the reserved porcini mushroom liquid. When adding the porcini liquid, be careful to leave the sediment at the bottom. Adjust the salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes. Then add the cornstarch solution (if using) and simmer for about 1 minute or so. You can add another tablespoon of cornstarch mixed with water if you want a thicker sauce.
  3. Turn off the heat and slowly stir in the half and half. Keep covered on the lowest possible flame until ready to serve. 
  4. While the mushrooms are cooking, prepare the instant polenta according to the package directions. When it's done, stir in a drizzle of olive oil and the mascarpone cheese.Serve the mushroom ragu over the polenta and garnish with the fresh herbs and a little Parmesan cheese.  Enjoy!

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