July 18, 2009

Baked Polenta with Wild Mushrooms and Sundried Tomatoes

Last night was one of those nights - it seemed there was nothing in the fridge that could be turned into a reasonably interesting dinner. As I had no desire to go grocery shopping, ordering in started to appear inevitable. But then I started exploring the pantry and found that a homemade dinner might just be possible.

Discovery #1: a bag of Trader Joe's dried wild mushrooms, which my mom forced on me last time I was at my parents' house. Discovery #2: polenta. And discovery #3: sundried tomatoes. There it was, staring right at me -- baked polenta with wild mushrooms and sundried tomatoes! In the fridge I found fresh rosemary and two kinds of cheese (an Amish raw milk Colby and parmesan). Things were definitely looking up.

I poured boiling water over the mushrooms (a mixture of porcini, shiitake, black, and oyster) and sundried tomatoes and allowed them to steep for about 15 minutes. I soaked the mushrooms and tomatoes separately, even though they were going into the same dish, because the mushroom soaking liquid is very flavorful and I was thinking of making a sauce with it. (To me, the sundried tomato soaking liquid is eh, although I'm sure there is a use for it.)

While the mushrooms and tomatoes were soaking, I made the polenta: 1 cup of polenta whisked into 3 cups of boiling water to which 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt had been added. The photo below is from about halfway through the polenta cooking process; when it's done it is much thicker and starts to pull away from the sides of the pot -- and it requires more muscle to stir. It took about 15 minutes to cook (for a detailed polenta cooking description, read this.)

When the mushrooms and tomatoes were well hydrated and pliable, I squeezed them gently to remove excess liquid and then chopped them. I added the mushrooms and tomatoes to the pot with the cooked polenta, along with:
  • 1 tablespoon of XVOO
  • 2 tablespoons of the strained mushroom soaking liquid
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons of minced fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried red pepper flakes
  • pinches of sea salt and black pepper
Then I transferred the polenta mixture to an 8x8-inch baking dish and topped it with shredded Colby and parmesan.

(Here's where I covered the pan with aluminum foil and went for a nice evening bike ride in Central Park!)

When I returned, I heated the oven to 400F and baked the polenta, uncovered, for about 25 minutes, until the cheese on top was bubbly and browned.

The mushroom soaking liquid tasted fabulous, so I reduced it on the stovetop in a small saucepan. When it had reduced to about 1/4 of the original volume, I removed it from the heat, whisked in a few lumps of cold butter (beurre monte: "mounted with butter"), and seasoned it with salt and pepper. It was the essence of mushroom! The sauce was delicious drizzled over the baked polenta. (I think it would be even better tossed with pasta - an idea for next time!).

With the polenta I made a frisee and green leaf salad dressed with a fennel seed vinaigrette:
  • Lightly toast fennel seeds in a small pan, crush them with mortar and pestle
  • Whisk together with 1 T red wine vinegar, 3 to 4 T XVOO, pinches of salt and black pepper
I sprinkled the salad with finely chopped candied ginger (my mom adds this to salad sometimes and I love it). Not bad for a pantry raid!


  1. Great save for a homemade dinner! This sounds delicious.

  2. I love what you made out of the random you found :) You can come up with some pretty amazing things that way :)

  3. Great idea from pantry items. Looks fancy but you made it easy to prepare.