Polenta with Mushroom Ragu

Recipe and photo by Tami Ganeles Weiser Yield:  6 servings
Prep Time:  15 minutes Cook Time:  1 hour 45 minutes

Polenta with Mushroom Ragu

Polenta with mushroom ragu is a classic in Italy and is comfort food at its best. With a few twists, the polenta is based on the recipe by the grande dame of Italian cuisine, Marcella Hazan. The secret ingredient for great polenta is time. If you're patient and stir, stir, stir, you will be rewarded with unbelievable creaminess. This version is vegan, but a vegetarian option is provided.

Ingredients

Vegan Mushroom Ragu:

4½ cups dried mushrooms, such as porcini, shiitake, or morels

8 cups sliced fresh button or cremini mushrooms

¼ cup olive oil

2 cups diced red onion (about 1 jumbo onion)

1 tube (4½ ounces) double concentrate tomato paste, San Marzano preferred

4 dried or 6 fresh bay leaves

2 teaspoons fresh oregano leaves, minced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

½ teaspoon toasted, ground fennel seeds

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional

Vegetarian Option:

½ cup finely grated parmesan cheese

½ cup grated finely pecorino romano

Polenta:

7 cups water

1¾ cups coarse grain yellow cornmeal

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon baking soda

 

 

Instructions

To make the mushroom ragu:

  1. Bring 12 cups water to nearly a boil. Place the dried mushrooms in a large bowl and pour the hot water over. Soak mushrooms, without stirring, until soft, about 30 minutes.
  2. With a dish towel, wipe off all visible dirt from the fresh mushrooms.
  3. Heat the oil in a large deep saucepan, over high heat until shimmering. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent and the edges brown, 8 to 10 minutes.
  4. Add the tomato paste to the onions and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
  5. Add the fresh mushrooms and mix well. Reduce the heat to medium-low.
  6. Using a slotted spoon, without disturbing the water and any settled dirt, remove the rehydrated dried mushrooms. Add to the saucepan and stir to combine. Add the bay leaves, oregano, salt, thyme, ground fennel, black pepper and red pepper (if using) and stir. Cover and cook until the fresh mushrooms are thoroughly cooked and soft, 45 to 50 minutes.
  7. For the vegetarian option, add the cheeses and stir well just before serving.

To make the polenta:

  1. Add the ingredients to a medium saucepan and stir continuously over high heat. As soon as the edges bubble, lower the heat to a simmer and stir (gently but continuously) for 45 minutes. The polenta will become thick, pale, and very creamy.
  2. Pour the polenta into individual serving dishes or a large bowl and top with the ragu. Serve immediately.
  3. Refrigerate any leftovers in covered containers for up to 1 day. Reheat before serving.

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