Creamy Polenta with Sautéed Crimini Mushrooms and Pancetta
This dish is based on one of my favorite gourmet southern dishes. In many of the nice restaurants in the South, you will find a similar dish that involves creamy grits (often baked) served with a white wine reduction sauce and shrimp.
Unfortunately, I was unable to find proper non-instant grits here in New York City. Instead, I had to resort to polenta which was readily available in my market (owned by two Italian brothers).
Grits (also known as hominy) and polenta are essentially the same thing, but polenta is ground more finely. Corn meal also fits into this picture with a ground corn that lies between that of polenta and grits. I’m sure there are some of you food snobs getting upset with me as there is probably more of a distinction than this (for example, the process of preparing the kernels), but for simplicity sake this is the difference.
In my attempt to make more non-seafood dishes (you may notice that my drop-down box for seafood recipes far exceeds that of any other category), I opted to make this meal with cremini mushrooms in lieu of shrimp. Plus I was aiming for a heartier dish so the cremini mushrooms just made sense. To add a nice warm flavor, I included a good portion of pancetta. Slowly my southern dish was transforming into an Italian one (both polenta and pancetta are Italian staples).
To help off-set the heaviness of the cremini mushrooms and pancetta, I made a white wine reduction sauce and added lemon juice. I also seasoned the mushroom/pancetta mixture with thyme, which is a great woodsy yet lemony herb. The combination of all these flavors made for a great meal filled with lots of bold, hearty flavors.
We had this dish as an entrée, but you could also serve it in smaller portions as an appetizer. It is relatively rich so I’d suggest that you compliment this dish with a light appetizer (or entrée, if that applies), such as my Simple Tomato and Arugula Salad with Goat Cheese.
So here is the recipe for 3-4 servings. Note that since I was hosting friends, I wasn’t paying too much attention to the amounts of each ingredient that I added. Therefore, the recipe below is really just my best estimate of measurements. In either case, the portions don’t matter too much anyway, so just use this recipe as a guide and go with what seems best to you.
- 1 cup Water
- 2 cups Chicken Stock
- 1 cup Polenta
- 1 cup Milk
- 6 tbsp Butter
- 3 oz. Parmesan cheese, freshly grated (do not use the green bottle stuff)
- Salt and pepper
- In a pot, bring water and chicken stock to a boil.
- Gradually add polenta and return mixture to a boil stirring frequently.
- Bring heat down to a low setting and simmer uncovered, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes. As it is simmering, add ½ cup of milk. Once incorporated, add second ½ cup of milk and stir.
- Mix in butter and then the parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Mushrooms and Pancetta with White Wine Reduction Sauce
- 3 tbsp Olive oil
- 1 large Shallot, chopped
- 6 oz. Pancetta, coarsely chopped
- 1 lb Cremini mushrooms, sliced into ¼ inch wide pieces
- 1 tbsp Fresh thyme (or ½ tbsp dried thyme)
- 3/4 cup White wine
- 1/3 cup Heavy cream
- 2 tbsp Butter
- Juice from ½ lemon (do not use the bottled juice—that’s gross)
- In a large sauté pan over medium heat add olive oil and chopped shallot. Sauté for a minute.
- Add pancetta and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until the “juices” (code for fat) from the pancetta begin to run.
- Mix in the mushrooms and thyme, then cover the pan and cook until the mushrooms are cooked through. You will need to mix them periodically.
- As the mushrooms are cooking, place a separate fry pan over medium high heat. Add white wine and reduce by half. Then add the heavy cream and bring to a simmer for a few minutes. As simmering, mix in butter. Remove from heat and add lemon juice.
- Place portions of polenta into serving dishes. Top with servings of sauce and cap off with mushroom and pancetta mixture. Garnish with fresh thyme.