It finally feels like fall in Tennessee. You know, the usual: crisp air, the odd rusty tornado of leaves tumbling through the streets; the mornings are sharp and so are my senses. A vegetarian take on an earthy braise over polenta, this Polenta with Wild Mushroom Ragu is the perfect way to welcome fall. And welcome it, I do.
Autumn always brings me back to myself after summers spent drifting to sea. My moods, like most people’s, cycle with the weather. Summer is for floating; it isn’t my favorite. I experience summer as listless, glaring, forever mildly disorienting; I can never quite focus through the heat and lens flare. The tomatoes are what make it worth while. But fall, fall is for being reborn as the leaves fall around me. And it has some of the most gorgeous produce of the year.
My husband & I are planning all our autumnal musts (we’ve never spent a fall together before!): a pumpkin patch visit & drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains, a trip to the orchard to pick honey crisp apples & eat hand pies, and exactly how to incorporate a fair amount of fake blood into the mix for Halloween. Okay, maybe that last one is just on my agenda.
But number one priority tonight is this fall favorite that I created for Reynolds Kitchens Endless Table project—a “table” of fall & holiday recipes that will stretch throughout the season. I made this dish as a new version of an old favorite: braised short ribs on polenta. Since my husband is vegetarian & I eat that way 99% of the time now, I wanted something we could both enjoy.
The mushroom’s are so addictively flavorful I always make extra because I eat half right out of the pan. And while I like a good braised shank as much as the next person, I admit I feel infinitely better after these mushrooms. We, being in the south, like to make this with grits, but polenta works great and is a little more universally available. All you need to do to make great squares for frying is make it a bit thick, line a pan with foil, pour the polenta in, cover & chill, and then cut into desired shapes and fry in an oiled skillet. I like to use my scalloped edge biscuit cutter. The squares are so crispy on the outside & creamy on the inside…just perfect. So here’s to the season for earthy foods, spice, and all that simmers.
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup polenta
- kosher salt
- 1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion diced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 lb mixed wild mushrooms shiitake, oyster, chanterelle, hen of the woods, etc, cleaned and sliced
- 1 lb cremini aka baby bella mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
- 2 tablespoons of flour
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- squeeze of lemon juice to taste
- 1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
- Bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Whisk in the polenta. Once it begins to thicken, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes until creamy and thick, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Stir in a 1/4 teaspoon of salt and the parmesan until melted and no longer visible. Remove from heat. Line an 8×11” baking dish with aluminum foil and carefully pour the polenta into the baking dish, using a spatula to smooth it to an even thickness, about 3/4″. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours and up to two days until firm.
- While the polenta chills, make your ragu. In a large heavy skillet heat the olive oil until shimmering over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute until fragrant and translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir often and don’t allow them to brown. Add in the mushrooms and thyme and cook over medium high heat until the mushrooms start to release their liquid. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and continue to cook another 5 minutes until they begin to soften more. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, until it is no longer visible, about 1 minute. Add in the wine, cream, and sugar, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Taste and adjust salt if desired. Simmer until thick and creamy and the mushrooms are nicely coated, about 10 minutes. Finish with a squeeze of fresh of fresh lemon juice and 1/2 cup minced parsley. Set aside and cover to keep warm.
- Slice your polenta into squares—whatever size you desire—or use a biscuit cutter to cut shapes. Wipe down your pan, coat it lightly with olive oil, and heat it over medium-high. Fry the squares in the pan until golden brown on both sides and warmed through, about 5 minutes per side. Top the squares with warm mushroom ragu and serve immediately.
My name is Beth, Elizabeth Evelyn to be exact. A native Tennessean, I was born in the South.
I am the author behind Local Milk Blog.
Local milk is a journal devoted to home cookery, travel, family, and slow living—to being present & finding sustenance of every kind.
It’s about nesting abroad & finding the exotic in the everyday.
Most of all it’s about the perfection of imperfections and seeing the beauty of everyday, mundane life.