Sunday, February 28, 2010

Creamy Polenta with Braised Greens and Pan-Roasted Mushrooms

I’ve been meaning to make this for weeks and finally got around to it Thursday night. In my mind, this is a perfect meal for a snowy winter night.

Interestingly, I’ve seen a version of this dish pop up on menus at a number of restaurants around the city, which confirms that I’m not the only one who thinks this is right for the season.

There’s really nothing difficult or time consuming about this dish. Yes, the polenta takes a while to cook, but you don’t really need to do anything to it except give it a stir every now and again. And if you’re pressed for time, you could make it ahead, chill it, and pan fry slices of it, which is equally good. 

The remaining components are totally flexible and forgiving. I couldn’t find kale or chard at my local market (surprising) so I opted for collard greens – any of them work fine, each lending a slight variation in texture and bitterness, but nothing so drastic that they‘re not interchangeable. 

Likewise, you can use whatever type of mushroom you like, although I recommend steering clear of the tasteless spongy white button variety. Get some good ones – they really make a difference. Then it’s all topped off with a dusting of cheese (which makes just about everything better, unless you keep a vegan diet, in which case it doesn't). The combination of textures and flavors works really well together, with the creamy polenta providing the perfect backdrop for the bitter, tart greens and the earthy mushrooms. It’s a minimal investment of time and effort but the results are big on flavor and comfort. Sounds just about right for a chilly night.


Creamy Polenta with Braised Greens and Pan-Roasted Mushrooms 
serves 4
vegan if not using milk and cheese; gluten-free

For the polenta
¾ cup polenta*
3 cups water
½ cup milk (use water to make this vegan)
¾ teaspoon salt
2 ounces mascarpone cheese (about 2 ½ tablespoons) (optional)

For the braised greens
One bunch (approx ¾ pound) dark greens (kale, swiss chard, mustard greens, collard greens, or senposai all work well – use what you have on hand or whatever you can find)
1 small or ½ large shallot
1 teaspoon unsalted butter (or canola oil for a vegan version)
½ cup water
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

For the mushrooms
½ pound shiitake or crimini mushrooms
1 large or 2 small garlic cloves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 sprig thyme

For plating
1 ounce parmigiano-reggiano (or any other hard, flavorful) cheese (optional)
2 stems flat-leaf parsley

*I’ve used both quick-cooking/instant polenta and regular polenta – the quick kind is ready in just minutes whereas the regular kind takes much longer – about 45 minutes.


Bring the water and milk to a boil in a large pot. Slowly pour in the polenta and whisk continuously while doing so. Once all the polenta has been added and the mixture is bubbling, add the salt, reduce the heat to low, and cover the pot. If using quick polenta, uncover the pot and stir for 1-2 minutes. Turn off the heat and cover the pot. If using regular polenta, keep the pot covered and cook for 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, or until the grains are completely tender. When the polenta is done, stir in the mascarpone, then serve immediately or keep warm over a very low flame until ready to serve.

Braised greens
While the polenta is cooking, wash and dry the greens, remove the stems, and roughly chop the leaves. Peel and thinly slice the shallot. Add the butter to a large skillet set over medium heat. When the butter is hot, add the sliced shallot and cook until soft but not brown, about 4 minutes. Add the water, greens, and salt. Stir well to combine, then cover the pot and cook until the greens are tender but still have texture – the time will vary depending on what type you use. I used collard greens, which took about 4 minutes; more tender greens will take less time. Remove the pan from the heat, add the vinegar and pepper, and toss to combine.

Roasted mushrooms
Clean the mushrooms and, if necessary, cut off tough ends of stems (if using shiitakes, remove the stems in their entirety – I like to save these for making vegetable stock). Cut the mushrooms into ¼” thick slices and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet set over medium-high heat.

Peel the garlic (if it’s large, slice it in half), gently smash it with the side of your knife, and add it to the skillet. Add the mushrooms and season with salt. Cook the mushrooms for 2-3 minutes, then turn them over. Add the thyme and cook for another two minutes – the mushrooms should be golden and soft but still have some texture. Transfer the mushrooms to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.

To serve
Shave or grate the cheese. Wash and dry the parsley well, then finely chop it. Evenly distribute the polenta among 4 plates and top with the braised greens and roasted mushrooms. Finish each serving with cheese (if using) and parsley.


Meghan said...

I dont know what's harder... the fact that this looks GORGEOUS and amazingly delicious... or that my husband won't touch a mushroom.

le sigh...

Roopa... you've done it again babe!

roopa said...

Thanks Meghan!

My husband used to refuse to eat mushrooms but something came over him recently and now he will. If I ever figure out what it was I will certainly let you know :)

N said...

This looks yummy and easy enough for me to make with my limited kitchen skills... will give this one a try and let you know how it goes!

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