Easy Oven-Baked Polenta with Balsamic Cremini Mushrooms
One of the most satisfying dishes we can make during the cold winter months, is polenta. This classic northern Italian staple is a true comfort dish, especially when combined with earthy, meaty, cremini mushrooms in a balsamic glaze! Oven-Baked Polenta with Balsamic Mushrooms is a delicious and very flavorful vegetarian meal that you are going to love!
What is polenta and how to serve it
Polenta is simply a hearty cornmeal porridge from northern Italy where it has traditionally been considered a staple in peasant cuisine. Polenta is typically made with coarse or fine stone-ground yellow cornmeal, which is then cooked in water, broth, or, a mixture of water and milk. Polenta is used instead of rice or pasta and it is often served as a base for a hearty vegetable ragout or topped with a couple of poached eggs. It can also be a delicious base for roasted pork tenderloin, braised short ribs, a beef stew, or, grilled chicken.
How to make oven-baked polenta
Unlike the usual way of cooking the polenta, which is standing by the pot and stirring constantly so as to keep the polenta from sticking to the bottom or from becoming lumpy, this method of oven-baked polenta is completely fool-proof and hands off.
This simple technique is worth mastering as it consistently produces creamy, silky polenta every single time! All you need to do is stir the cooking liquid, the cornmeal, and the seasoning in an oven-proof pot or small Dutch oven, and then just pop it in the oven. Half an hour later, your polenta is ready to enjoy!
Ingredients for the Balsamic Mushrooms
While the polenta cooks in the oven, you can prepare these delicious balsamic mushrooms to serve it with. You only need a handful of ingredients: cremini mushrooms, a shallot, garlic, balsamic vinegar, butter and olive oil, thyme or parsley. The combination of these ingredients gives the mushrooms, a deep, earthy flavor with a hint of sweetness.
If you prefer your polenta with a thicker consistency, you can cook it a little longer. It can also be made ahead of time and reheated gently on the stove top (or in the microwave) by adding a bit of water or milk as needed, until it reaches the desired consistency. If you have never had this oven-baked polenta with balsamic mushrooms before, I promise that this method is going to win you over!
- For the Polenta:
- 2 TBSP. butter
- 1 cup stone-ground corn meal (I used “Indian Head” brand old fashioned yellow corn meal)
- 1 cup milk
- 3.5 cups water
- ¾ tsp. salt
- ¼ tsp. pepper
- 4 oz. Parmigiano Regianno cheese, grated, (plus some more for serving)
- For the Balsamic Mushrooms:
- 1 lb. small cremini mushrooms
- 2 TBSP. olive oil
- 2 TBSP. butter
- 1 medium shallot
- 4 small garlic cloves
- --- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 2-3 TBSP. balsamic vinegar
- 2 tsp. brown sugar
- --- fresh parsley, chopped, for topping (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 325°F.
- Place a large, oven-proof pot over medium-high heat (I used a 4 qt. All-Clad pot). Add the water, the milk, and one tablespoon of the butter. Bring this to a simmer, season with salt and pepper, and stir to melt the butter. Gradually add the cornmeal, whisking steadily to incorporate (this initial stir is key to prevent clumps from forming). Bring the mixture to a boil, immediately cover the pot with a lid, and transfer to the middle rack of the oven. Bake at 325°F until the polenta is tender and soft, about 30 minutes.
- Carefully remove the pot from the oven, stir in the second tablespoon of butter, cover again and let it stand for 5 minutes. Gradually add 4 oz. of the grated Parmesan, whisking briefly until the cheese has melted and is well incorporated. Check the consistency and the flavor, then cover and let it sit until ready to serve.
- While the polenta is in the oven, prep the ingredients for the balsamic mushrooms. First, clean the mushrooms and cut them into one-inch pieces. Make sure that the mushrooms are completely dry before cooking. Slice the shallot and cut the garlic into slivers.
- Set a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the mushrooms and “dry-sauté” them for 3 to 4 minutes, shaking the pan often, until they release most of their moisture.
- Add the olive oil and butter to the skillet and toss to combine. Add the shallots, the salt and pepper, and cook until the shallots start to soften. Add the garlic and the thyme and cook a few minutes more until everything is well caramelized.
- Stir the sugar into the balsamic vinegar and then drizzle the mixture over the mushrooms. Toss well to coat and let them cool slightly. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
- Divide the polenta among four bowls, top each with the balsamic mushrooms, more Parmesan cheese, and a good drizzle of your best olive oil. Garnish with some fresh parsley and serve!
For those of you who made it to the end of this post, I have a question: Which photograph of this dish do you like the most? The first one with the green background, or this last one with the rust background? I often take multiple photos of the final dish with different backgrounds, until I find my favorite. This time, I just couldn’t decide which one I like the most!
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