Oh, how I love mushrooms. Oh, how I love polenta. So, is it any wonder that, oh, how I love this appetizer. I have made these tasty bites for many an occasion. Be it a formal dinner party, a buffet for a crowd or a simple first bite to a meal. They look impressive on a platter, but they are even more pleasing to the palate.
You've heard me rave about polenta before. It can dished out in an abundance of ways. Creamy and soft, molded and fried. For breakfast instead of grits or crumbled up on a salad instead of croutons. As an app or a main meal. Some foods are just like that, they give and give like the famous tree in children's book, The Giving Tree. "Here boy, take my stone ground corn and make magic with them." I love that book, and I love polenta. Did I say that already? Well, I do.
Keeping with the abundant uses mode, you can top polenta with other veggies or even proteins like shrimp or pulled pork. But today's recipe features earthy mushrooms. That's what I had available, so that's what I made. I only had Creminis on hand but I have made this with a combo of mushrooms. I implore you to explore and mix and match to suit your taste buds.
2 c polenta
2 T butter
6-7 c mushrooms, sliced
2-3 garlic cloves, sliced
1/3 c parsley, chopped
1 T rosemary, chopped
Magic 3 (Olive oil, salt, pepper)
7 oz goat cheese
Cook the polenta according to the package. Whisking as you slowly pour it in to avoid any lumps.
Once it is cooked and reached a thick consistency, add salt, pepper to taste and stir in the butter until melted.
Then pour the polenta out onto a buttered baking sheet. Using a spatula, spread the polenta evenly out. I usually use a larger sheet pan so the entire polenta base is thinner. But I was at my mom's house and her pan was smaller, so these were thicker. In the end, I liked the size of these. You can choose the thickness according to whatever floats your boat.
Once the polenta is evenly spread, cover it with plastic wrap and allow it to set in the refrigerator. Meanwhile, start cooking the mushrooms by adding 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan. I like using a cast iron pan as it retains high heat and gets a good sear on the mushrooms. The key to mushroom cooking is let them cook on one side without moving them around. This allows them to get nicely browned. Also, salt them when they have browned. If you add salt too early to the cooking process it makes the mushrooms release water.
I also cook mushrooms in batches in order to avoid crowding the pan. Too many reduces the pan heat and they begin to steam instead of sear. Once all the batches are done, remove the mushrooms and cook the garlic, rosemary and parsley in more oil. Then add to the mushrooms. I grated some lemon zest over the mushrooms which brightens the flavor. (you can also zest more once you assemble the whole dish.) Set aside while you continue preparing the polenta.
Once the polenta is firm, cut into squares or use a cutter. I was going to cut these into my usual small squares using a knife, but I found a round ravioli cutter in one of my mom's drawers and thought it would be fun to use especially because it had a scalloped edge.
Using the same cast iron pan, add oil to coat the pan and fry the polenta rounds in batches until crispy and golden brown. These are already cooked, so you just want to get them crispy. Remember, varying textures make food more interesting. Crunchy outside with soft inside.
Once done, place them on a baking sheet, so you can keep them in a warm oven until all have been fried. Then top them with dollops of goat cheese, and with a spoonful of mushrooms.
We had some roasted red peppers also as an appetizer. It made a wonderful partner to this earthy, crispy bite.
Side note: Using a 2" ravioli cutter, I got about 18-20 pieces. You can get more if you cut the pieces smaller and in squares. Also, this is an appetizer than can be prepped ahead of time. You can make, and even fry the polenta ahead of time. Then when you are ready to serve, pop them in the oven to warm them up and assembly. Enjoy polenta, the giving tree of corn!