Friday 5 April 2013

Creamy polenta, mushroom ragout with a poached egg and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano

I finally got around to sharing this comfort food classic. I've been meaning to do this for a couple of months. Here in Toronto, the weather hasn't been that impressive so far this spring. This makes a good winter dish so I figure it worked. This dish is rich, flavourful and hearty. I was inspired by a recipe from Working Class Foodies (you can also check out their YouTube channel). I just tweaked it here and there to make it my own. This is a rather versatile dish so you can do whatever you like with it. This recipe calls for mushroom stock. I used six different mushrooms including two dried varieties. To rehydrate them, I soaked them in boiling water and a pinch of salt for a few minutes. The mushroom stock in the recipe is just the leftover, flavourful water from that process. You can just use fresh mushrooms if you prefer. Just replace the mushroom stock with more chicken (or vegetable) broth or even a drinkable wine of your choice. You could use just one kind of mushroom and it would still be good, but having a variety of flavours and textures makes it extra special. You'll need 1-1.5 lbs of mushrooms in total. How many different kinds you want to include is up to you. 


Here is a picture of the mushrooms I used. Clockwise from top left: portobello, cremini, oyster, dried porcini, shitake and dried morel. I sliced the cremini and shitake mushrooms into strips, diced the oysters and cubed the portobellos so that the ragout would have different shapes, sizes and textures throughout it.


To rehydrate dried mushrooms and make a mushroom stock, break them in your hands into small pieces and place them in a cup or container and add a pinch of coarse salt.

Then pour over enough boiling water to submerge them. The recipe calls for 1 cup of mushroom stock, so make sure you have at least that much to spare. The mushrooms will only take 3-5 minutes to rehydrate and the broth will turn dark brown and saturated with earthy, savoury goodness. 


This dish is essentially three simple dishes rolled into one (polenta, ragout and a poached egg). So I'll split the the recipe into three parts. To plate it's just a matter of making a bed of creamy, fluffy polenta, spooning over the saucy ragout and sitting the egg on top. The polenta and ragout both take about half an hour to make but the poached egg will only take a few minutes so make sure that's one of your last steps.

I also did that thing that I do sometimes, where I buy an ingredient that would be great in a recipe and then completely forgot to use it. That thing being fresh parsley this time. I would have added 1/4 cup of fresh parsley to the ragout at the end but I was so excited to dive in that it slipped my mind. I'm still going to include it in the recipe but it won't be pictured. This turned out so good that you could consider it an optional step. It would just lighten the dish up a bit and add a bit of colour. 

 Before serving, add a 3-4 curls of shaved Parmigiano Reggiano on top. 

The Polenta


2 cups of chicken broth
2 cups of water
1 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of polenta (ground, dried corn)
1/4 cup of unsalted butter
1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Bring the water, chicken broth and salt to a boil in a heavy saucepan that has a lid. Gradually pour the cornmeal in installments while whisking constantly. This will avoid any clumps and ensure that the polenta absorbs the liquid evenly and gets luxuriously creamy. Continue to whisk until the mixture is smooth and begins to thicken.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until it is thick but still creamy. Because it is thick, it has a tendency to burn. All you need to do is keep an eye on it and whisk it every few minutes. If at any time you feel like you might need a little more liquid, whisk some in little by little until you are satisfied. It will take about thirty minutes or so. Between whisking, place a lid over the saucepan. This will steam the polenta and make it softer.

When it has finished, add the butter and (at least) 1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano. I insist that you use the good stuff that you grate yourself. The butter and parm will melt into the polenta and make it rich and nutty. Taste for salt and pepper before serving.


The Mushroom Ragout


2 tbsp olive oil
1-1.5 lbs of mushrooms, preferably mixed
1 onion, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp of fresh thyme
1 cup of mushroom stock (or wine)
1 cup of chicken broth
1 tbsp of all purpose flour
1/4 cup chopped, fresh parsley

Heat the oil over medium heat, sautée the onion for 1-2 minutes. Add the chopped mushrooms, salt and pepper. Cook for about four minutes. Add the garlic and thyme then cook for an additional four minutes or until no liquid remains. Mushrooms are full of water. This gives the moisture a chance to steam and the flavours get concentrated. The mushrooms will also shrink in size as they cook.

Add 1/2 of the chicken broth. Stir and cook until the liquid evaporates, about 4 minutes.

Add the flour and stir to coat. The flour will help to thicken up the sauce, but you want to stir it in for about a minute just to cook out the rawness in the flour.

Stir in the remaining chicken broth and the mushroom stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally until the sauce has reduced and thickened slightly. This will take around 10 minutes. In the last minute of cooking, stir in the parsley and then taste for seasoning. As I mentioned before, the ragout and the polenta will take about the same amount of time.

To Poach An Egg

Fill a medium saucepan with water and add a pinch of salt. You can also add a tsp of white vinegar to help the egg coagulate, but I don't find it necessary. While waiting for that to come to a boil, crack an egg into a teacup or ramekin. Eggs poach best at room temperature, so let it sit out of the fridge for at least an hour. When the water is up to a boil, stir the water with a whisk to create a small whirlpool. Drop the egg into the middle of the current, in the same direction as the moving water. As it spins with the water the egg white will cook and envelope itself around the yolk.

The egg will sink to the bottom. If necessary, use a rubber spatula to carefully lift the egg if you think it might be sticking. After 3-4 minutes the egg will begin to float upwards. That's when it has finished cooking. Personally, I love a runny yolk. If you like your yolks are little more well done, you can cook them for an extra two minutes. I recommend keeping the yolk runny because when you cut into it the yolk will create a second sauce that will run down the ragout and polenta. It's the most exciting part of the whole dining experience.

I hope you enjoyed this recipe and are inspired to try it yourself. It's not the lightest of meals but it's easy and makes a great brunch, lunch, or dinner. For an extra element of flavour and texture, you could fry up some cubed pancetta until crispy and sprinkle that on top. For a lighter option, you could even sprinkle a bit of garden cress or sprouts on top. I'd love to hear your ideas.

Be happy and stay fed,


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