To match Pinot Noir...

Portobellos &  Polenta
A sophisticated version of comfort food - 2 or 3 versions of polenta cooked at the same time

-  I n g r e d i e n t s  -

for the Polenta
Polenta - 1 cup of the organically grown, coarsely ground cornmeal                    
Water - 6 cups total, 5 1/2 cups initially                                                              
Salt - 1 teaspoon or less, adjusted to taste                                                          
Garlic - not less than 1, not more than 3 cloves, medium-chopped                     
Egg Substitute - 1/2 cup                                                                                    
Soy or Non-fat Cheese - 1/2 to 3/4 cup of Veggie Shreds, Parmesan flavor      
Marsala or Cream Sherry - 1 Tbls. or more                                                        

for the Mushroom Sauce
Regular White Button Mushrooms - 10 to 12 sliced as you like                        
Portabello Stems -  diced, from the Portobellos, see below                            
Olive Oil - 1 teaspoon to facilitate browning                                              
Yellow Onion - 1 medium to large, diced                                                
Thyme - 1/2 teaspoon of dried or fresh, dried is just as good             
Sweet Marsala and Armagnac - add to taste, about a Tbsp of each  
Ground Pepper - to taste: see note on peppercorns                   

for the Portobellos
Portabello Mushrooms - 1 large mushroom for every three people
Red Wine - 1 cup of decent red wine                             
Cracked Black Pepper - a heaping 1/2 teaspoon
Garlic - 4 or more cloves coarsely chopped

-  T o o l s  -

A Medium-large non-stick Pot, with a reasonably tight fitting Lid,
a Stirring Device that can scrape the bottom of the pot.
A large non-stick Frying Pan with Lid.
Kitchen Knife, Cutting Boards
Measuring cups & spoons.

-  T h e   B i g   P i c t u r e   a n d   L i t t l e    D e t a i l s  -

This recipe is a source of amazement
that one cup of polenta and a small bag full of mushrooms can make so many meals.
We contribute to pulling too many rabbits out of the hat, because when we cook,
we tend to cook with the intention of making leftovers that can be
easily adapted to a variation for another meal, so....
This recipe may seem to be complicated, because it is,
because you are really making two and a half meals.
So please excuse my penchant for my, leftover, effusive, and slow-food
style of cooking as you read and chef-along.

These recipes makes two and a half meals for 2 to 4 people each meal, they are:
Meal 1 -  A generous helping of mushroom polenta with slices of Portabello on top.
Meal 2 -  Slow pan-baked mushroom polenta with a winter vegetable soup.
Meal 1/2 -  The polenta base for any other of your favorite things.
The details follow.

- T h e   P o l e n t a -

In your non-stick pot with a lid, put in the 5 1/2 cups of water and bring to a boil.
Salt the water starting with a teaspoon.  Add the 1 cup of polenta slowly while stirring.
Bring it back to a boil, stirring frequently, if not constantly.  Keep stirring until
the polenta comes to the surface and stays up.  Now you can turn down the heat little by
little until it gets to low.  It's now about 5 minutes after you added the polenta and it should
be starting its rhapsody of plooups.  That's the sound that it makes as the bubbles come up.
But don't let one of those ploouping gobs hit you, so keep the heat quite low.

Making polenta is another holy-grail of cooking, and this is where many
traditional cooks would say that I have committed the un-holy
by not adding gobs of butter and buckets of cheeses.

The polenta has come to a boil, you have stirred it on and off for about 5 minutes,
and this is where I part with tradition, without stirring it anymore I just put on the lid
and let the corn continue to re-hydrate.  (Now is a good time to start the mushroom sauce.)
In 15 minutes, I come back and turn on the heat to medium for another couple of plooups,
and make sure there is enough water.  It should have a thick but not stiff consistency.
Let it sit again for another 15 minutes with no heat.  At this point, you are
about 40 minutes into it and the polenta has cooled.  Now you want to add the 'cheese',
garlic, and the egg substitute.  With the heat still off, mix in the 1/2 to 3/4 cup of  'cheese',
then pour a half cup of egg substitute into the measuring cup and dilute it with another
half cup of water. Stir the egg into the polenta thoroughly without any heat.
If the polenta is too hot, then the egg will cook immediately and it won't go into solution;
the egg in solution is what gives the polenta the creaminess without the un-godly amounts of
butter and cheese.  Turn the pot back onto medium and heat through
until you hear the rhapsody again...  plooup, plooup, plahhhp.
You can turn it way down or off as soon as everything is cooked and creamy.

-  T  h  e     M u s h r o o m    S a u c e  -

Put your large non-stick frying pan on the range.  Put a little olive oil in it and turn on the
heat to medium.  Dice the onion and add to the pan, move the onions around so they
pick up the olive oil, but then let them alone so they can brown by virtue of letting them
just start to burn around the edges.  While the onions are 'browning', slice the white button
mushrooms.  Quartering them will give more texture, slicing them thinly is better for the
portion that will be frozen.  Clean the very bottom earthy part of the Portabello mushroom
stem by cutting it off and discarding it, then cut out the remaining stem from the cap,
and dice it.  Keep the cap intact for later use.  After the onions have been perfected,
add the mushrooms an contiue to sauté.  Gently de-glaze the pan by adding Armagnac.  This is
done by adding
about 1 to 2 Tbls. of Armagnac or French brandy and stirring until the brown stuff on the
bottom of the pan is back into solution.  Add the 1/2 to 1 tsp. of thyme and pepper each.
Note - We have two pepper grinders in the kitchen:
One is full of just black peppercorns.  The other is a mixture of
white, green, and red peppercorns with the addition of chopped juniper berry.
For this recipe I like to use the melange mostly and go light on the black pepper.
Now adjust the sauté with Marsala until the richness you want is achieved but it doesn't get
sweet, start with a Tablespoon.

-  T  h  e     D i v i s i o n  -

Back to the polenta pot.  You can divide the polenta three ways.
Meal #1-  Plain polenta that you will modify later and is refrigerated,           
Meal #2-  Polenta with the mushroom sauce stirred in and frozen, and the      
Meal #3 -  Meal that you are going to have that day with the Portobellos on top.

Meal #1
Depending on how many you are going to feed and when,
divide out the plain polenta, if any, but not more than a quarter of it.
Put it in an air tight container and you can refrigerate it for 3 to 4 days.

Meal #2
Meal #2 and #3 are on the same track for now.
The polenta now has the 'egg' and 'cheese' in it and it is hot.
Take the mushroom sauce that has had its final adjustments for flavor using:
salt, pepper, Marsala, thyme, garlic, and any other little tricks.
Add all of the mushroom sauce to the polenta pot and stir it in.
Heat it thoroughly for about 5 minutes.
Now you are going to divide out Meal #2.
Take something like a rectangular pyrex glass or metal loaf pan, and spray it generously
with oil, or rub olive oil around the pan.  Drain off any excessive oil.
With the polenta/mushroom mixture still hot,
pour it into the loaf pan until it is between 1 and 1 1/2 inches deep.
Smooth the top with a rubber scrapper and refrigerate until it sets up, usually overnight.

This portion of the polenta is then 'fried' and served with a water-broth vegetable soup.
I will endeavour to write down that soup recipe at another time, meanwhile....
The way that the polenta is fried, only a true slow-food advocate will adore.
From the loaf pan, where the set-up polenta resides, turn it out onto a portable cutting board.
With a very sharp knife, cut it into slices about 1/2 inch thick, or thinner if you can manage it.
In a very large non-stick frying pan with
no oil, place the slices such that they do not touch.
Turn on the heat as low as it can go.  Don't even think about that pan of polenta
for another hour.  The whole frying time will take about 2 to 3 hours.
You are starting with the pan on low to just dehydrate the polenta between 60 and 90 minutes.  
Don't fuss with the slices until you start to see them brown around the edges, if you do get
curious and fuss with them prior to browning, they will fall apart and won't stick back together.
Once brown, work your spatula under the edges and flip them, you can now turn up the heat.  
Serve them directly from the frying pan, because once they cool down
they are not nearly as good as they loose their crispness.

Here's another trick that comes from our always being on the lookout for
cooking methods that give that same crispness that you can get from added oil.
In order to make very thin polenta crisps, I freeze the polenta in blocks after I dump it out of
the loaf pan.  Do not slice the polenta prior to freezing.  Here's the trick to being able to
slice it very thinly.  While the polenta is still frozen, unwrap it and put it on a plate that can
go into the microwave.  Heat it on high just long enough that you can cut it, but it is still
basically frozen.  Trial and error will be you guide here, try to cut them so they are less than
a 1/4 inch thick, thinner is better.  'Fry' them in the same way as described above,
but because they are thinner, it will take about half the time.

Meal #3

-  T h e    P o r t o b e l l o s  -

In a large frying pan with a lid, bring to a simmer the cup of red wine with
the heaping teaspoon of cracked black pepper and the coarsely chopped 4 or more cloves of
garlic.  Slice the Portobellos to about 3/4'rs of an inch thick,
the stems were already removed and went into the sauce.
Put them into the simmering wine mixture and flip them over in about 10 minutes.
Put on the lid and cook for about another 10 minutes.
If you want, you can make a reduction sauce from the red wine/garlic/portabello broth by
adding prepared mustard, molasses, and Marsala.

-  T o   T h e   T a b l e  -

From the hot polenta pot, put a generous portion on each plate.
Top with the Portabello slices to make an attractive arrangement.
As a side dishes, try peas from the freezer cooked with a little butter, salt,
and sugar added to the 1/4 inch of water on the bottom of the pan.
Serve immediately.

Enjoy your food inComfort...              

                            3x5 Card Printable Version for the Polenta