I have been watching the colors outside my kitchen window slowly turn to the earthy landscape of fall. I so love the rhythm of the seasons and the change it brings to the foods we prepare. My mind starts thinking about glorious soups, roasts, homemade pasta and all the wonderful memories these dishes conjur up of times spent with family and friends as the holidays approach. Although my Sicilian mother rarely prepared polenta, it has become a staple in my kitchen and turns up on my table in all its forms – from soft, creamy polenta to toasted slices spread with creamy butter. So last night, after a trip to the market turned up a wonderful array of mushrooms, I decided to try a ragu made from mixed wild mushrooms served with polenta, made extra creamy with a few handfuls of fontina cheese. I also added some crunchy pancetta crumbles on top for texture (which can easily be omitted). After a long week of travel to the opposite coast, I opened a bottle of Rosso di Montalcino, started a fire in my little firepit outside and sat fireside with my new creation watching the last rays of the day disappear. Just what my soul had ordered…..buon appetito and buon autunno.
Wild Mushroom Ragu over Creamy Fontina Polenta
8 slices pancetta, diced (if using)
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup water
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 shallots, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 pound of mixed mushrooms (I used cremini, shitake, oyster), coarsely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup polenta (coarse cornmeal)
1 cup packed grated Fontina cheese (I used about 3 ounces.)
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (plus additional for garnish)
1. Place the diced pancetta in a large saute pan over medium heat and cook until crispy. Remove the pancetta and drain on paper towels. Set aside.
2. Bring 1 cup water and dried porcini mushrooms to boil over medium heat in a small saucepan. Remove from heat. Let stand for 15 – 20 minutes. Strain the soaking liquid into a bowl using a paper towel lined sieve. Coarsely chop the mushrooms. Set liquid and mushrooms aside.
3. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and add the shallots and garlic over medium low heat. Cook until the shallots are softened, about 5 minutes. Turn up heat to medium and add all the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Saute until the mushrooms are tender and all the liquid has evaporated. Add in the wine and allow to cook until absorbed. Add the reserved porcini soaking liquid and the chicken broth. Simmer for 20 minutes until sauce is reduced by about half. Remove from heat and stir in the parsley. Adjust seasonings.
4. Bring 4 cups of water and salt to a boil over medium heat. Add the cornmeal in a steady stream, stirring constantly. Continue to stir until the mixture starts to thicken – about 2 minutes or so. Remove the polenta from the heat and stir in the Fontina cheese, until completely melted.
5. Spoon polenta into a serving bowl, top with mushroom ragu, sprinkle with additional parmesan cheese and chopped parsley and serve!