It is mushroom season here in Italy and the hills are full of keen funghi hunters seeking out this seasonal treasure.
In Emilia-Romagna, we often serve Mushroom Ragu with Creamy Polenta. The mushrooms are simmered into a simple ragu and served over polenta with a few herbs and a touch of garlic to bring out the flavours. This is a brilliant vegetable focussed recipe, and cooks much faster than a traditional meat ragu.
I think this recipe for is the ideal way to eat these delicious morsels, as the earthy flavour of the mushrooms really shines through.
Mushroom hunting in Italy
Yes, you even need a permit for picking mushrooms in this part of the world, probably a wise idea as there are such a bewildering array of edible and non-edible mushrooms to be found in the woods!
I have to admit, I tend to leave the foraging of wild mushrooms to the experts like my father-in-law, however, I can think of a million ways to cook with them. Creamy Mushroom Pork Medallions, Feta Stuffed Mushrooms or finely diced in a Classic Pork Wellington are some of my favourites.
Which mushrooms are best for ragu?
If they are in season, and your budget can stretch to it, porcini mushrooms are the obvious choice for this dish, though you can use whatever mushrooms that you have. Using a mixture of mushrooms, like in the picture below, gives a really pleasing variation of textures and shapes in the finished dish.
It is often worth bulking out the rarer or more expensive mushrooms with chestnut or button mushrooms so that you can feed a crowd. Whichever mushrooms you use, it will still be delicious.
How to cook polenta
A lot of people are unsure about cooking polenta, but it couldn’t be simpler. It fact, if you’ve ever made porridge from oats, or cornmeal (which polenta is), you can definitely whip up a pot of polenta.
To ensure your polenta is perfectly smooth, start by stirring the polenta into cold liquid. This stops the mixture from forming any lumps and bumps.
Stirring often while cooking will stop the polenta from sticking, and mixing in butter and Parmesan cheese right at the end of the cooking time enriches the dish and gives it a beautifully creamy consistency.
Is polenta gluten-free?
Technically, yes. As with most modern products, polenta may be produced in a factory that makes other products, so companies may not guarantee the polenta is free from gluten.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
I don’t drink alcohol, can I make this mushroom ragu without the wine?
Absolutely. If you can get hold of some dried mushrooms, soak them in 200ml of warm water for 20 minutes. Add the mushrooms to the pan with the fresh mushrooms, and use the soaking liquid instead of the wine. This is a great way to get an intensely mushroomy flavour.
Can I make this recipe in advance?
I prefer to make cook this dish fresh, as polenta sets when it cools. You can definitely make it in advance, however, simply reheat the mushroom ragu in a small saucepan, and loosen the polenta with a little milk or stock and whisk well while reheating.
Where can I find polenta, and what sort should I buy?
Polenta is actually coarse cornmeal, and you will often find it under that name. Avoid ‘Instant’ polenta, I find it can have a bit of a gummy and unpleasant consistency.
Can I make this recipe vegetarian?
Yes! Leave out the meat. You’ll want to adjust the seasoning to balance out the missing saltiness. A little miso or nutritional yeast would work here.
This polenta is also excellent served with my Juicy Baked Meatball recipe, click here to read more.
Mushroom Ragu with Creamy Polenta
for the creamy polenta:
- 200g (1 cup) polenta / coarse yellow cornmeal
- 750ml (3 cups) cold water
- 500ml (2 cups= milk
- 1 vegetable stock cube
- 50g (½ stick) butter
- 50g (1/2 cup) Parmesan cheese, grated
for the mushrooms:
- 25g (¼ stick) butter
- 2 Tbsp oil
- 1 large onion, finely diced
- 2 slices pancetta or prosciutto (optional)
- 3 cloves garlic, finely diced
- 500g (1 lb.) mixed mushrooms, chestnut, oyster, chanterelles etc., roughly chopped
- 2 sprigs rosemary, leaves finely chopped
- 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves finely chopped
- 200ml (¾ cup)white wine
- 125ml (1/2 cup) vegetable stock
- 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
- 2 tsp tomato paste
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- sea salt & black pepper
- extra grated Parmesan cheese
- fresh parsley
- MAKE THE POLENTA: Whisk the polenta, water and milk together in a large saucepan. Crumble over the stock cube and stir through. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring often. When the polenta has begun to thicken and bubble, turn the heat right down to the lowest setting and cook, stirring often for 15-20 minutes. If the polenta is too thick, whisk through a little water or milk. Directly before serving, stir through the butter and Parmesan until melted.
- SAUTÉ ONIONS: Meanwhile, prepare the mushrooms by heating the butter and oil together in a large, heavy-based frying pan. Cook the onions gently for 5 minutes until beginning to soften, but not brown. Add the pancetta or prosciutto (if using) and cook a further 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute until fragrant.
- ADD MUSHROOMS: Turn the heat up and add the mushrooms to the pan along with rosemary and thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes until the mushrooms have begun to reduce.
- ADD LIQUIDS AND SIMMER: Whisk together the wine, vegetable stock, balsamic vinegar, tomato paste and cornstarch, then Pour into the pan. Stir well, then bring to a simmer and simmer for 5 minutes until slightly thickened. Taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary.
- SERVE: Divide the polenta between 4 shallow bowls or deep plates and top with the mushrooms. Serve with extra parmesan on the side and scattered with fresh parsley.
Imperial and cup measurements are approximate. For best and most accurate results I use a digital kitchen scale like the one below.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1 bowl
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 729Total Fat: 42gSaturated Fat: 18gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 20gCholesterol: 90mgSodium: 1155mgCarbohydrates: 63gFiber: 7gSugar: 9gProtein: 21g
Nutrition information is calculated automatically and isn’t always accurate.
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