To say that the last week was dreich is something of an understatement. London has been engulfed in such a large raincloud that – although I can usually see over The City, as far as The Shard from my desk – I haven’t been able to see much further than the tree outside the window for days.
It’s the time of the year to treat yourself kindly, and what could be nicer treatment than a creamy polenta?
Okay, okay, I’m know I’m in the minority here. Most Brits are about as disgusted by Italian polenta as Italians are disgusted by British food.
I’m sure that the blame lies with school-semolina. It’s traumatised whole swathes of a generation, and the knock-on effect is a generic hatred for anything with a near-semolina-consistency: polenta, rice pudding, thick custards or porridge congee. Not me though! I’ve loved semolina all my life (thanks to my Granny’s and Mum’s gries schmarn), and I also love polenta.
If you can get your head round the texture of polenta (think: “thick and creamy”, not “dense and stodgy”), then you’ll reap the rewards.
This dish is warm and comforting…quite unusual, but utterly delicious: creamy-corn tasting polenta, salty Parmesan, earthy-rich mushrooms and a lovely flash of thyme. The cost of 50g polenta is around 8p. Also, my local supermarket has suddenly expanded its range of mushrooms (shiitake, oyster and forestiere, as well as the standard chestnut and button). Even if you go for the really expensive ones (which I did!) then 100g works out at around 60p. It’s a classic case of treating yourself to the most delicious vegetables, and it still coming in at less than the cheapest meat.
Mushrooms and polenta
50ml whole milk
50g (Dunn’s River cornmeal fine) polenta
For the mushrooms
100g mushrooms (I used large, flat Forestiere mushrooms which had a lovely, strong earthiness.)
Sprig of thyme
2 garlic cloves, crushed
20ml verjuice or white wine
1. Heat the milk and water, and then cook the polenta. This isn’t entirely straight-forward, so I recommend you give one of these two excellent guides a quick scan. Far more comprehensive that anything I’m going to write here.
2. While the polenta is cooking, get going with the mushrooms. Heat the butter in a frying pan. Add the mushrooms and thyme to the pan, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook for 1 more minute.
3. Whack up the temperature on the hob, and chuck a splash of verjuice or white wine in the pan. This is essentially deglazing the pan and will create a delicious brown juice.
Obviously, most people won’t have a bottle of verjuice to hand, but my fridge has got out-of-control, and it seemed like a good use, as advised by Maggie Beer. A splash of white wine will be just perfect too.
3. Once the polenta is cooked, then stir in the butter and parmesan, so it develops a beautiful sheen.
4. Spoon the polenta into a bowl, and then top with the mushroom ragu.