Polenta has been part of Italian cooking for many years and has recently made a great comeback because it is so versatile.
Preparation time: 25 minutes;
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Ingredients for 8 servings:
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
4 field mushrooms, brushed clean and sliced
175 g (6 oz) wild mushrooms, brushed clean (and sliced -unless they are already bite-sized)
4 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
120 ml (4 fl oz) dry white wine such as Verdicchio
8 fresh basil leaves, chopped, plus a few torn basil leaves to garnish
salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the polenta:
1 litre (1 ¾ pints) water
2 teaspoons salt
175 g (6 oz) polenta flour
50 g (2 oz) butter
100 g (4 oz) Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
To make the polenta, put the water in a large, deep pan with the salt. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and gradually add the polenta, stirring constantly with a whisk.
Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the polenta is very thick and is coming away from the side of the pan; it may seem that the polenta has thickened faster than this but it really must cook on to allow the grains to become tender.
Beat the butter and Parmesan into the polenta and season to taste, adding plenty of black pepper. Pour the wet polenta into a 23-25 cm (9-10 in) round shallow tin and spread it evenly with a palette knife into a layer about 1 cm (½ in) thick. Leave to cool until set.
Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large frying pan, add the onion and garlic and fry for 5 minutes, until soft and just starting to brown. Stir in the mushrooms and parsley and fry for 5-8 minutes, until the mushrooms are golden brown.
Add some salt and pepper, then the wine, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the chopped basil. Add more seasoning if necessary.
Cut the polenta into 8 wedges and brush the top with some of the remaining olive oil. Heat a ridged chargrill pan until very hot and place the polenta wedges on it, oiled-side down, pressing them on to the hot surface. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until golden.
Brush the uncooked side with more oil, then gently turn the polenta over with a palette knife or fish slice. Cook for another 2-3 minutes, until toasted. Put a polenta wedge on each serving plate, spoon the mushroom mixture on top and sprinkle with some torn basil leaves. Serve immediately.
Like most polenta dishes, this is quite filling. Serve a wedge per person as a starter or serve as a main course for four people. If you like, the polenta can be served ‘wet’ -i.e. before it sets – instead of being griddled.
Cooked set polenta freezes well. Thaw when required and gently heat it in the oven before griddling. If you griddle the polenta when it is cold, it will stick to the pan and will not heat through evenly. Ready-cooked polenta that only needs to be sliced is available in supermarkets. It makes life easier but the flavour of home-made polenta is far superior.