On a recent visit to New York, one of the restaurants I really enjoyed was Scott Conant’s Scarpetta. There was a particular polenta dish which was just magnificent. He has published the recipe so I thought I’d give it a whirl. The recipe below is slightly modified because, funnily enough, I didn’t happen to have any truffle on hand, and also I didn’t have 3 hours to make the chicken reduction before moving onto the main event, so just used stock. In his recipe he suggests cooking the polenta for 2.5-3.5 hours, but I cooked it for about an hour and a half or so. You’ll know its not cooked if it still tastes grainy – it should be very smooth (and whatever you do, don’t use the instant variety!). Polenta thickens very quickly, but that doesn’t mean its ready. It serves 4-6 as a side dish and is worth the effort. I may however, need to go back to New York and try the original again to make sure I got it right.
2 cups thickened cream
2 cups milk
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2/3 cup polenta, preferably coarse ground
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Fricassee of Mushrooms
1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
2 cups mixed domestic and wild mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives
1. For the creamy polenta: In a heavy-based saucepan, combine the cream and milk and heat over medium-high heat just until small bubbles begin to appear on the surface. Add the salt, and whisk the cream and milk until quite frothy.
2. Add the polenta and continue to whisk the mixture as it comes to a boil. Continue whisking for an additional 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to very low, cover the pan, and cook the polenta, stirring every 5 minutes or so (switch to a wooden spoon), until it is completely cooked and quite tender (check it after an hour if not keep going) for 2.5-3.5 hours.
3. For the fricassee of mushrooms: In a large saute pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, until the shallots just begin to color on their edges. Add the mushrooms and cook until the liquid is released. Add the stock, bring to a boil, reduce to a bubbling simmer and cook until the liquid is reduced by half. (You can prepare the mushrooms ahead up to this point; reheat them over medium-high heat just before serving.)
4. Just before serving, stir in the butter, cheese and chives if using. The polenta should pour from the spoon as you serve it and will thicken as it cools. If necessary, you can thin the polenta with a little milk just before serving.
5. Just before serving, reheat the mushrooms if necessary. Toss the mushrooms with the chives. Spoon some mushrooms and some of the cooking juices over the polenta.