We love polenta and during the fall and winter months I like to add it to dinners in place of pasta, rice, or potatoes. It’s a perfect side dish which pairs well with roasted or braised meats, especially ones with sauces and/or gravies. Depending on how much liquid you add when cooking, polenta can be either cake-like or porridge-like. The cake-like style is great for grilling in the summer but I think we prefer the loose, creamy style of polenta, especially when it’s colder.
We had roast lamb on Sunday and when I saw a recipe for polenta and mushrooms in the Saturday Wall Street Journal I decided to add it to Sunday Dinner. The one thing in the recipe which caught my eye was the use of milk in addition to water. Had I been missing something all these years? A cursory search of polenta recipes on the internet confirmed for me I hadn’t, since most of what I saw called only for water. As you know by now, it’s the little things which make cooking fun and delicious so tweaking my normal polenta with some milk seemed like just that little thing. For what it’s worth, the only recipe I came across with milk in it was Emeril’s. Liquid to polenta ratios varied as well, Emeril was 4:1, Giada was 2.5:1, WSJ is 3.5: .67 (seriously WSJ? Can’t you give me a better ratio?). I’m going with Emeril’s ratio.
Now, I will confess, I’ve used instant polenta for a long time since that’s all the grocery store usually carries and since this particular recipe called for instant, I used it on Sunday night. However, when I went grocery shopping this week I was pleasantly surprised to see something new sitting next to the instant stuff; a 500gr package of Polenta Tradizionale. It quickly found its way into my cart for a trial.
So the big question for me was ‘does it work the same way?’ as in, do I still use the same liquid to polenta ratios. Pretty much, but as you can probably guess, more liquid equals looser and creamier polenta. Using the non-instant takes longer, you need to let it simmer 30-40 minutes, giving it an occasional stir to keep from sticking. If it starts to get thick just add some more liquid and keep cooking. You want the polenta to become tender which will take some time.
You can use either instant or non-instant with this recipe. Is one better than the other? I’d have to say they both taste fine, perhaps a bit more corn flavor to the slow-cook polenta but it’s pretty close so it’s up to you which way you go. Use whichever is available. The mushrooms can be made ahead of time up to the finishing stage, where you add the butter and seasonings. That way you can quickly heat them up and serve right away with the hot polenta.
PS – My blog is now 2 years old! My very first post was on October 30, 2011. Looking back, I can’t believe how much it’s evolved since then.
Creamy Polenta with Sautéed Mushrooms (4 servings)
- 2 C whole milk
- 2 C water (plus 1 C extra as needed to keep it loose when cooking)
- 1 tsp salt (good spot for some truffle salt)
- 1 C polenta (or instant)
- 1 C grated gruyere cheese
- 16 oz cremini mushrooms, chopped (I like cremini but use whatever you like)
- 3-4 cloves minced garlic
- 6-8 sage leaves, chopped
- 3 Tbs olive oil
- 1 Tbs butter
- Demiglace (optional)
In a large saucepan over medium high heat bring the water, milk, and salt to almost boiling. In a slow stream, mix the polenta in, stirring until it all incorporated. Reduce heat to a low simmer, stirring occasionally. Cook for 30-40 minutes adding water as needed to keep the polenta loose (I added about 3/4 C more of water when it started to really thicken up, around the 10 minute mark, and then I just let it simmer for 20 minutes). When polenta is ready add the cheese.
Instant method: Over medium-high heat bring water and milk to a boil, in a slow stream pour polentain and whisk to keep it from clumping. Stir and cook for 5 minutes until it starts to thicken. Mix in cheese, adjust seasonings, and serve.
While the polenta is cooking: In a pan over medium high heat add the mushrooms and season with some salt. The mushrooms will start to release water. When the water has been released and evaporated, stir in the butter, garlic, and sage [Optional: add 1-2 Tbs of demiglace]. Cook for a 3-5 minutes. Season to taste. Spoon over polenta.