I have heard of polenta. Many people have. But I have never had the pleasure. Having been told that it is bland and mushy, really did not help the case for eating this traditional Italian food. (By the way, Polenta has its own league, the Prima Patria Poi Polenta Society)
So this supposedly mushy dish that is largely flavourless but still has its own society. Umm.. What IS the draw here? I mean I am not making a very good case for this food am I? Here is the deal… Polenta is not nearly as bland as you have been led to believe when grilled, with a mushroom based sauce added in the cooking process and some sharp feta cheese crumbled on top. (Or if you are a fan of Bleu Cheese, Gorgonzola would be a great substitute.)
METHOD Shiitake Mushroom Sauce
Put the shiitake mushrooms into a large bowl. Pour the boiling water over them to cover, and soak the mushrooms for 1 hour.
While the mushrooms are soaking, grind the macadamia nuts in the food processor, until they are a paste and set them aside. You may need to add a little oil or water to them to achieve this. Try adding 1 tbsp. at a time until you have a consistency of peanut butter.
After the mushrooms have soaked, squeeze out the excess water, one handful at a time, and reserve the soak water. Cut off the tough stems and discard them.
Finely chop the mushroom caps, then transfer them to a large, deep skillet along with the onions, 1 cup of the mushroom soak water, garlic, and butter. Cook and stir over high heat for about 7 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium. Add the remaining 1 cup mushroom soak water, soy sauce, and ground macadamias, and simmer another 2 to 3 minutes to blend the flavours. (Bacon is always a welcome addition to sauces. Try adding 1 to 2 slices, finely diced, to the onions and mushrooms and sauté before adding the water, garlic and butter.)
Garlic Infused Olive Oil
Some like it chunky, others like it pasty. If you are a pasty kind of person, add the oil and garlic to the blender and buzz away until you have a satisfying mixture. If you are a chunky kind of person, put the oil into a bowl and use a fork to mash the garlic then scrape the mush onto the oil and you are done.
Under no circumstances should you make or eat garlic infused olive oil if it has not been done properly, there is a high risk for Botulism! Never ever leave raw garlic in olive oil as the garlic has traces of Clostridium Botulinum from the soil it is grown in. No you cannot get clean garlic grown in soil that does not contain Clostridium Botulinum, it naturally occurs. The best way to avoid issues is to purchase your infused oil, but if you like to make your own stuff, always always always cook your garlic in some way at 200°F or more. Either sautéed or roasted on the grill (or in the oven) before adding it to oil. If you are in any way unsure, PLEASE BUY IT FROM A TRUSTED SOURCE! Also, if you’re making your own oil, you can make up to one day ahead, but do not store for longer. It is just safer that way.
Polenta and Mushrooms and Onions
In a sauce pan over medium-high heat bring the water to a boil. Stir in the chicken stock and add the shiitake mushroom sauce and salt.
Gradually add the cornmeal to the mixture, whisking constantly. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until it is thick, remember to stir constantly. This takes about 5 minutes.
Spoon the cornmeal mixture into a buttered 9-inch loaf pan, cover it with plastic wrap and place in the fridge until it has chilled and set.
Oil one side of the cooking grids in preparation for the polenta, then preheat the grill to high.
In the cast iron frying pan, you may need two for this one, melt the butter. Add the chopped mushrooms and sliced onions. Turn the side of the grill that you are cooking the mushrooms and onions on, down to medium and cook, stirring often, until they are golden and caramelized. When they are done, add the cheese of choice.
Wile your onions and mushrooms are cooking, cut the polenta into ½-inch slices. If you are feeling really fun and festive, pull out some cookie cutters and cut those polenta slices into shapes. Lightly brush all over with the garlic infused oil and place them on the hot and greased side of the grill to cook. It should only take about 3 minutes per side and they will become crispy and golden brown.
Arrange on plates and serve hot, topped with the mushrooms and onions. You can even add a little extra mushroom sauce over top if you like.
Leftover mushroom soak water is great as an additive to broth or flavoring for soups and sauces and even makes an especially tasty base for gravy.