Welcome to the world of polenta, this extremely popular Romanian ingredient and dish. But how Romanian is it? I always thought that it was unique to our country, very common, and sometimes rejected by those a little bit too posh for it. But going skiing in Italy, even those too posh used to order the ‘stone-baked polenta’ found on every respectable restaurant’s menu.
I have written before about polenta (you can read it here) but I keep coming back to it for some reason.
Traditionally, it was poured right in the middle of a wooden table or onto a wooden board as soon as it was cooled and set. Then slices were cut using a string. It was eaten as a side dish. The following day, the left overs were fried, very much like today’s polenta chips.
The other version is a creamier polenta, that doesn’t set, and you can’t slice it. It absorbs rich sauces when you eat it next to stews; or enhances flavours when eaten with sautéed vegetables.
Both versions are usually made in a special iron polenta pot that looks very much like a Dutch oven, but with no lid or handles.
You can find polenta in Northern Italy and in Romania, probably in South-America, too. Its name has Roman origins but obviously they used to make it with wheat, chestnut flour and chickpeas.
My version here still uses corn but it is a softer polenta with some very earthy mushrooms, that contrast with the sweetness of the maize.
This is how you make it:
200g mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves of garlic
Put the polenta and the water together in a pan and bring to the boil. You will need to whisk regularly and add more water if the polenta thickens too quickly. Add 100g butter, whisk for a couple more minutes, season and set aside.
Melt the remaining 50g of butter in a frying pan. Add the sliced garlic and fry for 3 minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms and saute for 5 minutes. Season and set aside.
Pour the polenta in a ceramic dish and add the mushrooms on top with all the juices in the pan.