Vegetables Are Not Just For Vegetarians- Polenta With Wild Mushroom Ragout

creamy goat cheese polenta with wild mushroomsI am not a vegetarian. I am not a vegan. I certainly respect people who make those choices, but I simply do not understand why they would choose to do so.

I am not the kind of person who chooses to limit myself. I am not a live by a strict and narrow set of rules or die” kinda guy. I am far too young (and always will be!) to say, “Oh, I no longer need those experiences. I am happy with these experiences.”

However, I am also smart enough to know that people who choose to be vegetarian or vegan probably have a whole set of reasons for choosing it. And interestingly, these reasons probably have nothing to do with what I see as the limitations of these choices. While I would not say this makes me stupid. I’ll admit it may make me uninformed.

That said, ironically, we eat vegetarian or vegan 2 or 3 nights a week. While I would never get on the “no-way, no-how” train, or jump through convoluted hoops to force some dish to be vegan, I do believe there are health benefits to “limiting” the amount of meat you eat.

Besides, there are so many beautiful foods and recipes I want to experience that just happen to be vegetarian or vegan. These foods and recipes are perfect just the way they are. Why would I limit myself from eating them? I wouldn’t nor would I jump through convoluted hoops just to add meat to them.

Tonight’s dinner is a great example of this.

wild mushroom ragoutI am making Creamy Goat Cheese Polenta with Wild Mushroom Ragout. It is a vegetarian recipe. You could take out the goat cheese and sour cream and this would be a vegan dish. But I would consider that a convoluted hoop that destroys the integrity of the dish. As would be adding ground beef to it.

Polenta is made from coarsely ground corn. It was the food of the “poor man” in Roman times. Today it is beloved by all Italians and quite a few of the rest of us!

Very good polenta is not the same as “quick-cook” yellow corn meal. But you could make a very acceptable polenta with cornmeal.

Proper course-grain polenta might seem labor intensive. There is a lot more cooking and stirring involved. But as with all things the extra work pays off in better flavor and texture.

To start bring 6 cups of water and 1 tablespoon of salt to a boil in a heavy saucepan or Dutch oven. One that retains a lot of heat in its walls is ideal. This will assure a very even cooking (fewer lumps that way).

Once the water boils reduce the heat to low and add the course-grain polenta very slowly whisking the mixture constantly as your pour. Once all the polenta is added, keep stirring and whisking away. The more you stir the better texture you will get.

proper cooking of polentaOnce you are confident that there are no lumps, you may stop stirring and let the polenta gently cook. It will bubble and blurb like molten lava. Which is a very good reason to use a large pan (less mess that way).

Continue to cook the polenta on very low heat for another 30–40 minutes. Remember to stir it every few minutes to evenly cook the polenta and keep it from sticking.

Just before you are ready to serve add 1/2 lb of goat cheese. Stir it until the cheese has melted and is well incorporated.

In the meantime, prepare the mushrooms. I used a mixture of 1 pound meaty wild mushrooms including: cremini, porcini, portobello, shitake, etc. Cut them into bite size chunks of varying sizes and shapes. I know I have said this before, but I like a variety of textures very often in my recipes.

In a large fry or saute pan heat about 1/4 cup of olive oil over medium heat. Once the oil is quite hot add enough of the mushrooms to form a single layer. Not all the mushrooms will fit and that is a good thing.

Season them with more salt and some pepper and let them brown. Do not move them around the pan just yet. You are trying to get a crunchy brown side on these mushrooms. Once this is achieved add the rest of the mushrooms and stir them well. This will help achieve the multiple textures I mentioned earlier.

Next add 4 minced garlic cloves, and 2 or 3 sprigs of oregano.

Keep cooking the mushrooms. They will let off some liquid and seem a bit too watery. Keep cooking them past this point until the liquid has evaporated. The oregano leaves should have mostly fallen off the stems by now so you may remove and discard the woody stems.

creamy polenta mushroom ragoutAdd a big dollop of sour cream

Just before serving taste the polenta for seasoning. You may need to add a bit of water to it too. It sometimes gets a little too thick. You want a very creamy texture.

Spoon the polenta into bowls or onto plates. Top it with a good amount of the wild mushroom ragout, and garnish with a bit more fresh oregano.

I am serving mine with pencil thin asparagus spears. I am roasting them in a very hot oven with a lot of course salt and pepper. I think roasting and grilling are the best preparations for the very thin asparagus. Garlicky broccoli rabe would be another great accompaniment. Just save those barbequed baby back ribs for another occasion.


Greg Henry