Potatoes, rice and pasta are the most common sides for the starch portion of any great meal, but why not steer a little left and try something a little different? Polenta is basically ground dried corn, or corn meal, and comes in different styles. Course and fine grinds are the most popular and can be white or yellow in color. In the southern part of the United States we call these grits, and that doesn’t stand for “girls raised in the south." I think we would all agree that polenta sounds much more appetizing. Grits tend to be a breakfast food for southerners but can be enjoyed in other applications as well, such as shrimp and grits, or a baked grit casserole for dinner. The Italians figured out long ago that if polenta, as it is know in Italy, was cooked long and slow, it was an inexpensive and filling way to feed a family. Once cooked long and slow, this creamy dish becomes an empty notepad for any flavor you can imagine. Sweet or savory, let your imagination run wild with different ways to incorporate your favorite cheeses, vegetables, meats, fruits and herbs. The recipe below was a big hit on the set of my live cooking segment “Tuesday with Troy” at the Fox Charlotte studio. Give it try and experiment frequently.
Creamy Polenta with Balsamic Mushroom RagoutServes 4 to 6 as a Side Item Polenta: 6 cups chicken stock, plus extra as needed
1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal, fine or course ground
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup mascarpone cheese or cream cheese
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
Black pepper, to taste Bring chicken stock to a boil in a large pot. In one steady stream, slowly add the cornmeal while stirring with a wire whisk, lower heat to low. Once all of the cornmeal is incorporated, add the salt and stir to combine. Continue to stir and cook the polenta for 30 to 45 minutes or until creamy. If the polenta becomes too thick, add a little water to keep it a loose consistency. Begin preparing the balsamic mushroom ragout while polenta is cooking, stirring frequently. When the polenta is done, it should have a loose and creamy texture. Remove from the heat and add the butter, mascarpone or cream cheese, parmesan and black pepper. Stir until butter and cheese are melted.
a thick, rich well-seasoned stew of meat, poultry or fish and sometimes vegetables
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion each, medium, about 1 cup or more, slice into half moons
2 cloves fresh garlic, smashed and chopped
2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 pounds cremini mushrooms, quartered
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar Melt the butter with the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until they start to soften, about 5 minutes. Then add the garlic and honey. Continue to cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until onions begin to caramelize and start to turn a golden brown, lower heat if necessary as to not burn the garlic or the onions. Next, add all of the mushrooms, season with salt, black pepper and crushed red pepper, stir, raise heat to medium high and add the balsamic vinegar. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently until mushrooms are cooked through. if pan runs dry, add a little water and lower heat a bit to finish cooking the mushrooms. Remove pan from heat and let stand covered until ready to top polenta. Assemble: Once the polenta and mushroom ragout are done, pour the polenta onto a large serving platter or on individual plates. Make an indention in the middle of the polenta and ladle some of the balsamic mushroom ragout into the indention, garnish with fresh herbs and grated parmesan if desired and serve.