Mushrooms

Mushrooms have been much on my mind. They’re everywhere in the woods – but I select them from the shelf at the Food Co-op. This time of year wild mushrooms like chanterelles join the ones local mushroom growers provide year round like shiitake and cremini. Portobellos are a favorite. (They fill a bun so nicely!) Jack Bishop’s “Portobello Mushrooms with Red Wine and Oregano” is quick and delicious.

But now also, I have mushrooms in the house – or at least the potential for mushrooms. A “blob” in a plastic tote (a gift from our builder) is allegedly going to sprout shiitake mushrooms! I’m following a schedule: misting for two weeks – then dry, then submerge, and start over. I’m on day four so not much to see yet – but it’s an exciting thought. The builder says it works and he’s usually right.

Now I’m in the midst of making “Polenta Gratin with Mushrooms and Tomato” – a Deborah Madison recipe. (I love Deborah Madison – she never lets me down. She explains and inspires always. I never pick up my cluttered-with-sticky-notes copy of “Vegetarian Cooking for Everybody” without encountering something pleasing to cook.)

Today I’ll make the firm polenta and refrigerate. I’m actually looking forward to stirring for the entire recommended 30-45 minutes – this is for company so I want it to be good. Deborah says it’s the “time spent cooking that brings out the full corn flavor.” (She also says it’s a good time to catch up on reading.) When cooked, half of the polenta gets poured out into a baking dish and the other onto a baking sheet, wrapped with plastic film and refrigerated.

Putting the rest of it together looks easy for tomorrow. I have a mixture of mushrooms – around a pound – to slice, and add along with garlic mashed with salt, to olive oil cooking with an onion, bay leaves, thyme and marjoram. Then add half cup of dry white or red wine and simmer till reduced and add two cups of tomato puree or crushed tomatoes in puree. Simmer a little longer, “taste for salt and season with pepper.”

The tomato-mushroom sauce gets spread over the polenta in the baking dish and covered with grated provolone and Parmesan. Another layer of polenta (Deborah warns that it might be necessary to cut it into smaller pieces before placing over the sauce). Cover with the remaining sauce and cheeses.

I like the description of this dish as “hearty and straight-forward” and the thought of baking till it’s “bubbling and hot throughout” – about 25 minutes. Along with greens from the CSA and an apple crisp, this should make for a festive, fall Friday night.

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