Recipe: Creamy Polenta with Mushrooms, Chickpeas, and Olives

I’m sort of afraid of polenta.

I remember making it successfully many times in culinary school.  But every time that I’ve tried to make it at home i’ve failed miserably.  Usually it comes out super sticky, or chunky, or even worse one time I bought a pre-made polenta log which was supposed to make the polenta process fool-proof, but instead it came out like glue.  I shudder just thinking about it.

I was thumbing through some old issues of Cooking Light and came across a recipe for a beautiful looking dish with chickpeas and mushrooms…. and polenta.  My palms instantly felt sweaty.  I didn’t know if I was ready for the challenge.  But I figured, it was now or never.  I needed to get over my fear of at-home polenta making.  So off I went to the store to pick up ingredients!

The results? Success! The dish? Hearty, creamy, delicious.  And I’m proud to say I’m no longer afraid of making polenta at home.  The key I found is to get the water rapidly boiling, and then to not stop stirring while the polenta is cooking.  The rapid boil will ensure the polenta is cooked through, while the stirring will keep it smooth and lump-free.

Is anyone else out there afraid of making polenta? Is it just me? Anyone else ready to take the challenge? This is a delicious dish that’s worth it.  I promise.

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Creamy Polenta with Mushrooms, Chickpeas, and Olives
Serves 4-6

For the mushroom medley:

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
12 ounces sliced wild mushrooms (about 7 cups)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 large red onion, vertically sliced (about 2 cups)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
½ cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
12 mixed olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
1 (14.5-ounce) can unsalted chickpeas, rinsed and drained
For the polenta:

3 cups water
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup stone-ground polenta or grits
6 ounces grated vegetarian Parmesan cheese (about 1 ½ cup), divided (don’t be afraid to go even heavier on the cheese….)
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
To prepare medley, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add mushrooms, garlic, onion, and thyme; sauté 8 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring frequently. Add wine and vinegar; cook 2 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half. Add broth, pepper, ¼ teaspoon salt, olives, and chickpeas; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium; simmer 6 minutes or until slightly thickened.
To prepare polenta, bring 3 cups water and ¼ teaspoon salt to a rapid boil in a medium, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Gradually add polenta, stirring constantly with a whisk. Reduce heat to low; cook 30 minutes or until thick and creamy, stirring frequently. Stir in half the cheese.
Divide polenta evenly among 4-6 shallow bowls. Top evenly with mushroom mixture. Sprinkle evenly with remaining cheese and parsley.


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