There are few things I find more soothing than walking quietly through my neighborhood with my dog. With only a few trees to distract Indy, it's a chance for me to clear my thoughts and appreciate a perfect autumn day. Admittedly, when it's warm and the sun is shining, I can slow my pace and allow myself to enjoy the moment- the leaves changing color and the sweet smell of laundry wafting through a window. When it's cold or the rain is beating against my jacket, we're both in a rush to get home.
It's on a day like today, after a week of below normal temperatures and the fear of winter was running deep, that a warm day feels stolen and sacred. It's just a normal Wednesday. My husband has been fighting a cold all week, and instead of venturing out to a few of our favorite local haunts, I've been trying to fill him with as much home-cooked goodness as I can.
Here is a perfect, comforting mid-week dinner idea; seasonal and wholesome, delicious and moreish. It combines my obsession for smooth, creamy parmesan polenta with autumn kale and wild mushrooms.
The basis of the mushrooms comes from one of Jamie Oliver's recipes in Jamie at Home for mushroom bruschetta. I love these fried wild mushrooms spooned over toasted, garlic ciabatta and a crisp glass of white wine. I added kale and all of a sudden, we have a delicious vegetable sauce perfect for pasta or even better, over polenta.
I am lucky enough to live a few doors down from a dry cleaners owned by a lovely little man and Terragusto, an Italian cafe that makes their own pasta daily and serves the creamiest, most heavenly polenta.
Ground polenta is available at Whole Foods and other grocery stores. I use Bob's Red Mill Corn Grits (also known as polenta) and follow the recipe on the bag for a basic Italian polenta. The mixture can be poured into a cake pan and allowed to set, which you can then slice and grill, but I like the creamy version best.
A typical topping for polenta in Italy is a meat and tomato sauce. It's an extremely versatile alternative to other carbohydrates that you may pair with meat, and I especially like it with a simple roast chicken.
Polenta with Kale and Wild Mushrooms
for basic Italian polenta:
6 cups of water
1 tsp salt
2 cups of polenta or corn grits
3 tbsp butter
1/2 cup of grated parmesan
Bring the water and salt to a boil in a saucepan and gradually stir in the polenta. Simmer for 30 minutes, keeping it covered as it will pop and bubble. Keep the heat low and stir often so it doesn't stick to the bottom. After 30 minutes, season with salt and add the butter. Stir in the parmesan and take it off the heat. Keep it covered until you're ready to serve.
for the mushroom and kale saute:
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 large bunch of kale, roughly chopped
3 cups of wild mushrooms, torn or sliced (crimini, chestnut, oyster or any of your favorites)
t tsp thyme leaves
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tsp red chilli flakes
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp water
salt and pepper to taste
Tear or slice the mushrooms and heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. It's important that the mushrooms have enough room in the frying pan to lie in one layer or they will not brown properly.
Heat the olive oil and 1 tbsp of the butter in the pan and place the mushrooms in the pan with the thyme leaves, garlic and red chilli flakes. Saute for a few minutes until the mushrooms are just cooked and remove them from pan leaving the juices behind.
Place half the kale (the pieces with the stems should go in first) in the same pan over high heat and add 2 tbsp of water. Cover and steam for a couple of minutes. Add the rest of the kale and steam again for a few minutes until just wilted and the stems are tender.
Add the mushrooms to the pan with the other tbsp of butter, then add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Take off the heat ready to spoon over the creamy polenta. Be sure to pour the juices over the polenta and grate some parmesan over the top to serve.