Polenta is one of those things that many people enjoy when eating out at Italian restaurants but may not realize how simple it is to create at home. In it's simplest form, polenta is basically fine cornmeal that is simmered in a liquid until smooth and creamy. To that you can add different flavored cooking liquids, fresh herbs, mascarpone cheese, and so on then topped with slow roasted meats, vegetables, a poached egg, or whatever you can dream up.
But one of my favorite things about polenta is that leftovers can be turned into dense polenta cakes then grilled to bring in some subtle smokiness as is the case in this recipe from Grilled Polenta with Mushroom Ragout courtesy of Weber's Big Book of Grilling!
GRILLED POLENTA WITH MUSHROOM RAGOUT
2 cups whole milk
1 cup polenta or coarse-ground yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon dried thyme
8 ounces mixed wild mushrooms (portabello, shiitake, brown, and button)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the mushrooms and polenta
2 cups thinly sliced red onion
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ cup chicken broth
¼ cup dry vermouth
1½ teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (optional)
To make the polenta:
1. Line an 8- by 8-inch baking pan with plastic wrap so that the wrap spills over two opposite sides by about 4 inches. In a large heavy saucepan combine the polenta ingredients with 1 cup water and whisk until smooth. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, whisking frequently. Reduce heat to low and cook the polenta until tender, about 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so with a wooden spoon to avoid scorching. Transfer the polenta to the baking pan and smooth the surface with a spatula dipped in water. The polenta should be about ½ inch thick. Allow to cool to room temperature. Fold the long ends of the plastic wrap over the top and refrigerate until the polenta is firm, 4 to 24 hours.
To make the ragout:
1. Remove and discard the stems from the mushrooms. With a spoon, scrape the black gills from the portabello mushrooms and discard. Wipe all the mushroom caps clean with a damp towel. Generously brush or spray both sides of the caps with olive oil. Grill the mushrooms, cap side up, over Direct Medium heat until tender, turning once and basting with more oil, if necessary, halfway through grilling time. The portabello mushrooms will take 12 to 15
minutes and the shiitake, brown, and button mushrooms will take 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the grill and cut into 1-inch chunks.
2. In a large sauté pan over medium heat, warm the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue to cook for 2 minutes more. In a small bowl whisk together the tomato paste, chicken broth, and vermouth. Add to the onion and mushroom mixture. Sprinkle with the rosemary and thyme and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside while you grill the polenta.
3. Remove the polenta from the baking pan and plastic wrap. Cut into squares or other desired shapes. Brush or spray both sides of the cakes with oil. Grill over Direct High heat until warm and marked on both sides, 8 to 10 minutes, turning once halfway through grilling time.
4. To serve, gently reheat the ragout and spoon it over the polenta cakes, then sprinkle each serving with some of the cheese, if desired. Serve warm.
© 2001 Weber-Stephen Products Co. Recipe from Weber’s Big Book of Grilling. Used with permission.