Creamy Polenta with Mushroom and Rosemary Topping


I disregarded the fact that I don’t even really like much meat, let alone red meat. I had been swooning over the idea of America’s Test Kitchen’s creamy polenta for months and decided it would pair perfectly with a steak.

I strolled into Bellingham’s new butcher shop, Carne, and peered through the glass case at the over-the-top meat. I came away with a grass-fed, 1-pound ribeye. It cost me an arm and a leg, but since I only eat steak sparingly, I splurged.

The creamy polenta came out effortlessly and the steak was a perfect medium rare. I think next time, however, I will just eat a heaping pile of polenta instead. With flavors of chicken broth, parmesan and herbs, it was the most satisfying winter meal. The polenta could be served with a different topping, but I chose to take advantage of the plentiful chanterelle mushrooms, which were in season.

This recipe calls for baking soda, which I thought was interesting. The great part about America’s Test Kitchen is that everything is explained in detail. Sometimes I surpass all of this, but when there is an ingredient that seems very specific, I read the fine print.

Here is what they said: “For polenta to lose its hard, gritty texture and turn creamy, enough water must penetrate the corn’s cell walls that the starch granules within swell and burst. Baking soda added to the cooking liquid can reduce the time it takes for this process to occur, thus shortening cooking time.”

Serves 6-8

For the polenta

  • 7 1/2 cups water
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pinch baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups coarse-ground cornmeal (don’t use “quick-cooking” or stone-ground or regular cornmeal)
  • 4 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated 2 cups
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and baking soda. Slowly pour cornmeal into water in steady stream, while stirring back and forth. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, about 1 minute. Reduce heat to the lowest possible temperature setting and cover.

After 5 minutes, whisk polenta to smooth out any lumps that may have formed. Cover and continue to cook, without stirring, until grains of polenta are tender but slightly al dente, about 25 minutes longer. At this point the polenta will barely hold its shape, but it will continue to set up as it cools.

Remove from heat, stir in Parmesan and butter, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Let stand, covered, for 5 minutes and serve.

For the topping (make simultaneously) 

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped fine
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 pound mushrooms (such as cremini, shiitake, chanterelle or oyster), trimmed and sliced
  • 1/3 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • Salt and pepper

Heat butter and oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until onion softens. Stir in garlic and rosemary and cook until fragrant.

Add mushrooms and cook, stirring, until juices release. Add broth and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until the sauce thickens, about 8 minutes. Spoon mushroom mixture over individual portions of polenta.


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