Polenta has come full circle from it's origins in early Roman times as gruel or porridge to a premium dish in fine restaurants. This comforting peasant food can take on many forms from a creamy grits style to grilled on a Weber, deep fried or baked in the oven. Here's one of my takes on this classic comfort food.
This polenta is of the formed, baked variety. The original recipe that I have used for years called for 4 cups of water to one cup of cornmeal, Fontina cheese and oyster mushrooms. I have since come to prefer a creamier more savory version and have modified the base recipe in this version. One of the great things about this recipe is that you can easily substitute what you have on hand or prefer and still follow the basic recipe.
To cook the polenta bring 5 cups of chicken broth to a boil in a high quality 3 quart sauce pot with thick solid base. You will need the thick base for even slow cooking. Once the chicken broth comes to a boil, slowly pour in a fine stream of a cup of yellow cornmeal whisking with a wire whisk. Continue whisking until the mixture returns to a boil then reduce heat to low or very low if cooking with gas. Cook for about 20 minutes, whisking until the cornmeal slowly falls off of the back of a wooden spoon adding water as necessary to maintain desired consistency. I alternate between a whisk and a wooden spoon while stirring. I use the spoon to scrape around the bottom curve of the pot to prevent sticking. When the polenta is done, remove from heat and whisk in 4 tbs soft butter.
Wait a minute! I said slow cooking and now I'm talking about 20 minutes! Well if you cook it over medium heat you will end up with a clump of yellow goo so I guess it's all relative. I really cook this to feel adding water if needed over a low heat and may cook it for 30 minutes. You can cook this for an hour or more if you like;)
Next pour the polenta in to a greased 9x13 casserole dish and place in the refrigerator to cool completely for about 2 hours or so.
While the polenta is cooling, saute a pound of your mushrooms of choice. I used baby Portablellas and cooked about a 3/4 lb of bacon until crispy. Coarse chop the bacon and set aside. To assemble, invert the polenta onto a cutting board and cut in half. Top one half of the polenta with mozzarella cheese, mushrooms and chopped bacon. Place the other half of the polenta on top and top with mushrooms, bacon, Fontina cheese and grated Parmesan cheese.
Place the assembled polenta in a preheated 350F oven for about 30 minutes until the cheese is melted and polenta is hot.
What you will need
1 cup of yellow cornmeal
5 cups of chicken broth
3/4 to 1 lb cooked bacon
1 lb mushroom
4 oz sliced Italian Fontina Cheese
4 oz sliced or grated mozzarella cheese
freshly grated parmesan cheese for topping