Creamy Mascarpone Polenta with Mushrooms
I love cheese. There. I said it. The first step (after all) is admitting it to yourself.
My love of cheese goes way back. To say that cheese and I are intimate pals would be a major understatement. This probably explains my somewhat inappropriate love of pizza, since pizza is essentially a cheese delivery vehicle…
To illustrate: last year, Patrick and I spent 2 weeks meandering around France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. And what was I most excited about? Visiting the Louvre? Meandering along the canals in Bruges? Visiting châteaus in Normandy? All incredibly wonderful. But nope. It was the cheese. All that delicious cheese. And the fact that’s perfectly acceptable to eat a whole smorgasbord of cheese after your meal.
The low point came one night at dinner in Paris. After lingering over delicious appetizers and entrées, it came time to order dessert. I scanned the menu, and my eyes lighted on the one thing I was looking for—the cheese plate.
“I’ll have the cheese plate,” I said without hesitation (i.e., with way too much eagerness).
Patrick looked at me with a face that I can only describe as expressing utter concern for my well-being (mixed with a tinge of disgust), and said: “But you already had a cheese plate with lunch.” Translation: two cheese plates in one day = you have a problem.
Apparently I had crossed a line.
“Um, actually I’ll have the tarte tatin.”
Like I said, the first step is admitting that you have a problem.
Anyway, the point is that cheese is ah-mazing. And I love it a little too much. But—and this is a big step for me—it can make dishes like this one a tad too rich and heavy sometimes. Not that rich and heavy is always a bad thing. Clearly not. But sometimes you need to lighten and brighten it up a little. This was Deb’s critique of this dish over on Smitten Kitchen. Agreed.
To make this dish a little less rich, I substituted creamy mascarpone polenta (made with nonfat milk) for the white grits (made with heavy cream), and cut back on the amount of butter and (gasp!) cheese. I also dialed up the fresh ingredients here—added a little more lemon juice, and a lot more fresh parsley. The acid from the lemon really helps to counterbalance the richness of the polenta, while the parsley just makes the whole dish that much fresher and brighter.
The result is a well-balanced dish that’s simply delicious. Easy enough to throw together any night of the week. But elegant enough to serve to friends at a dinner party. Substantial enough to eat as a main dish. But simple enough that it would be a fantastic side dish (I imagine that this would pair very well with chicken or grilled flank steak). Plus, with only 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon of cheese, it’s a step on the road to recovery for me. Well, at least until I decide to whip up a big batch of homemade mac-and-cheese…
CREAMY MASCARPONE POLENTA WITH MUSHROOMS
I used a mix of shiitake, oyster, and cremini mushrooms here. But pretty much any mix of mushrooms would work well here.
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
For the mushrooms
1 lb. assorted mushrooms
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 garlic clove, minced
salt & pepper
For the polenta
1 cup polenta
2 1/2 cups water
2 cups milk*
1/4 cup mascarpone cheese
1 (heaping) tablespoon freshly grated parmesan
salt & pepper
Clean the mushrooms by wiping them with a damp cloth (don’t wash them—this will only make them tough). Slice the mushrooms (see picture) and set aside.
Cook the polenta. Bring the water and nonfat milk to a boil in a large saucepan. Pour in the polenta in a steady stream, using a whisk to incorporate the polenta into the milk and water mixture. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer the polenta—stirring frequently—for about 15-20 minutes, until the polenta is thick and creamy. When the polenta is done cooking, stir in the mascarpone and parmesan, along with some salt and pepper (to taste).
While the polenta is simmering away, heat a couple splashes of olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, and cook until fragrant (about 1 minute). Next, add the mushrooms, along with salt and pepper (to taste), and sauté for approximately 6-8 minutes, until the mushrooms are golden brown and the water they have given off is evaporated. Add 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, 1/2 cup of fresh parsley, and 1-2 tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice. Cook together until the butter melts, about 1-2 minutes. Taste for seasonings—at this point, you may want to add a little more salt, pepper, and/or lemon juice.
Place a few spoonfuls of the polenta in the bottom of a bowl, and top with the sautéed mushrooms. Sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley. Serve immediately.** And enjoy.
* I always use nonfat milk when making polenta. I think that—technically speaking—you’re supposed to use whole milk to make super creamy polenta. But nonfat milk works perfect well here. And between the mascarpone and parmesan, this polenta is plenty creamy. Plenty.
** Polenta gets very thick (and stiff) as it cools, so you want to eat it right away (or else it will no longer be the “creamy” polenta described above). If the polenta does cool down, reheat it along with a little milk to revive its creaminess.