Meatless Monday Polenta Gratin with Mushrooms and Fontina

I must confess that in recent years I have become a bit of a polenta snob.  I’m not proud of this in any way.  It’s just that I really love polenta and I deeply believe that it should be creamy, almost silky; not a hint of graininess.

And in order to achieve this creamy, dreamy quality, I fervently believe that one must stir their polenta until the spoon has become flat and the pan is several millimeters thinner than when you began.  Stirring = creamy.  Lots of stirring.  Lots.

And then along comes Russ Parsons in an L.A. Times column to say that creamy polenta can be achieved without stirring.  Heresy!!  Not really.  I’m not so much of a snob that I won’t bow to Russ Parsons’ opinion on culinary matters, but I was definitely a skeptic.

Well, people, I have been freed from snobdom and am here to tell you that yes, in fact, you CAN achieve creamy (really creamy) polenta without stirring, and this makes me very happy.   For all of us.

And you won’t even believe how easy it is.  Just combine water and cornmeal in a baking dish along with a little salt and just stick it in the oven.  That’s all.  Let it bake for 45 minutes, stir in a little butter, bake it a little longer, and voila!  Creamy polenta!  

And as if that weren’t enough, because really it would have been, they went and printed this recipe which topped that creamy polenta with mushrooms and melty fontina cheese.  Yes please.

So good.  This would make a lovely side dish, but I served it as a Meatless Monday main course (even though it was Sunday), and we ate all but that little square of it in the photo below.  Yes, it will thicken as it sits and is delicious if you want to serve it in wedges.  To revive it if your leftovers have thickened over-much, just stir in a little liquid as you re-heat it.  With a big yummy salad, it’s an easy, creamy, scrumptious meal for any night of the week. 

It feels good to be set free from the wooden spoon/stir like heck for an hour polenta dogma of the past.  Creamy polenta for the masses!  I’m in!  Here’s the recipe…


Click here for a printable recipe

Adapted from the L.A. Times

This was an absolutely heavenly dish.  But that didn’t stop me from making a few changes.  The original recipe called for shitake,shimeji and crimini mushrooms, but use your favorites or any that you have handy.  The original recipe also called for fresh rosemary which I didn’t have on hand, so instead of adding the salt and rosemary to the mushrooms, I substituted a teaspoon of my Tuscan Herb Salt which includes lots of garlic and rosemary.  It was divine. 

1 cup polenta
4 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
10-12 oz mushrooms, sliced  (I used crimini and Portobello)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 sprig fresh rosemary (I used 1 tsp
Tuscan Herb Salt)
1/4 pound Fontina cheese, sliced

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the polenta in a 2-quart gratin dish, and stir in the water and 1 teaspoon salt. Bake for 45 minutes. Stir in the 2 tablespoons butter and the parmesan cheese, and return the polenta to the oven for 15 more minutes.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and sprinkle with one-fourth teaspoon salt, or to taste. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms give up their moisture, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and the rosemary and continue cooking until the mushrooms are dry, 3 to 4 more minutes.

3. When the polenta is done, taste and add more salt if necessary.   Scatter the cooked mushrooms over the top of the polenta and then tear the soft Fontina slices into shreds and distribute them over the top of the mushrooms.  Return the pan to the oven until the cheese has melted and begins to brown, about 5 minutes.

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