Creamy Polenta with Roasted Mushrooms and Asparagus
It’s one of those in-between times of year. Spring is here, yet still finding its footing. Days are balmy, but it cools down at night. I love it. While I rediscover the new season’s bounty, I like to look for ways to transition from comfort food to lighter fare. Growing up, polenta was really not a part of my food vernacular, but now has become a recurring dish in my repertoire. Here, it’s a lovely foil to show off spring vegetables which have been roasted to optimize their flavor. This is simple: a meal in a bowl. Comforting and savory and perfect for this time of year.
Instant polenta is certainly convenient, but has a grainier texture than the old fashioned, stir-at-the-stove Italian variety. Since this dish only takes an hour to prepare, that extra stirring is worth the effort to yield creamier results. Mushrooms are a big part of the story here: they’re meaty and gratifying and there are many types to choose from. I like to use shiitakes and oyster and cremini. If you’re lucky enough to find morels (I wasn’t), they’d make a beautiful addition. Fresh spring asparagus brings greenness to the bowl; a splash of your best balsamic and shavings of Parmesan make a perfect finish.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. An important note about mushrooms: never submerge them in water to wash them–they are literally sponges that will soak it all up. Instead, use a damp cloth or paper towel to lightly brush away any dirt. Remove the stems from the shiitakes and quarter the caps.
Trim the stem ends of cremini and halve or quarter them depending on size; trim the ends of oyster mushrooms and cut into wedges.
Cut asparagus tips and the tender part of the stems on the diagonal into 1 inch pieces.
Lay the mushrooms and asparagus out on a parchment lined baking sheet and sprinkle with minced garlic and picked thyme leaves. Drizzle all with olive oil and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place in the oven to roast for 15 to 20 minutes.
To make the polenta, combine milk, water and kosher salt in a medium saucepan over medium high heat and bring to a simmer.
Whisk the polenta into the simmering liquid until combined. Reduce heat to medium and continue whisking for 2 minutes.
Turn the heat down to low and cover the pan, leaving it slightly ajar.
Continue to simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, uncovering every ten minutes to stir the polenta vigorously for a minute. Make sure to incorporate polenta from the sides of the pan.
When ready, whisk mascarpone into polenta until incorporated.
Serve polenta in shallow bowls and top with the roasted mushrooms and asparagus. Garnish with chopped chives, a splash of your best quality balsamic or sherry vinegar and shavings of Parmesan cheese.
1 1/4 pounds assorted mushrooms: shiitakes, oyster, cremini, morels
3/4 pound asparagus
3 – 4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon picked thyme leaves
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups milk
2 cups water
large pinch of kosher salt
1 cup polenta
3 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
chopped chives for garnish
splash of best quality balsamic or sherry vinegar
freshly shaved Parmesan cheese for garnish