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Polenta Bites with Caramelized Mushrooms

Ease of Preparation: Moderate

Preparation Time: 15 min

Cook Time: 30 min

Servings: makes about 50 spoonfuls

Recipe By: Michael Chiarello

From:  At Home with Michael Chiarello
Used with permission of Chronicle

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Polenta Bites with Caramelized Mushrooms

The soft polenta I made at Tra Vigne was so good that customers were always asking me for the recipe. I was almost embarrassed to give it to them because it called for an amazing amount of cream. But what a delicious indulgence! This is the same recipe, but since you eat only a small bite when it is an appetizer, the amount of cream doesn't seem so extreme.

For the Polenta
3 cups heavy cream
2 cups chicken broth powder
 finely ground sea salt, preferably gray salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup polenta
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup additional {chicken stock} or heavy cream, warmed, if needed
For the Mushrooms
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pound fresh cremini mushrooms, roughly chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
 finely ground sea salt, preferably gray salt
 freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
Cook the polenta: In a heavy saucepan, combine the cream, stock, 1 teaspoon salt, and nutmeg and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the polenta gradually, whisking constantly. When the mixture thickens, after about 2 minutes, switch to a wooden spoon and adjust the heat to maintain a bare simmer. Cook, stirring often, until the polenta is thick, smooth, and creamy and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 15 minutes. Add the Parmesan cheese and stir until thoroughly combined. Keep the polenta warm over very low heat, stirring occasionally. If the polenta gets dry as it sits, stir in the 1/4 cup warmed stock.

Cook the mushrooms: In a skillet, heat the olive oil over high heat. When the oil is hot and just starting to smoke, sprinkle in the mushrooms in a single layer. Don't stir them! Let them sizzle until they caramelize on the bottom, about 2 minutes. When they are ready, toss them once and season to taste with salt and pepper. Continue to cook over high heat without stirring for about 5 minutes. Add the butter and cook until it begins to brown, then add the garlic. Continue to cook until the garlic begins to brown, about 1 minute. Add the thyme and cook for about 10 seconds. Add the lemon juice and cook until the liquid evaporates. Add the wine and simmer until the mushrooms are glazed with the pan sauce, about 3 minutes. Add the parsley, stir, and remove the pan from the heat. You should have about 3/4 cup.

Using a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip, pipe about 1 tablespoon warm polenta onto each spoon (or place it in the spoon using another spoon). Put about 1/2 teaspoon of the mushroom mixture on top of each polenta serving. Serve immediately.

Each spoonful gets only a little bit of the mushrooms, so they need to pack a punch, which means it's important to caramelize them well. That involves patience. Let the oil get hot in the skillet, then add the mushrooms and leave them alone. They will release their moisture first and it will evaporate. Turn them only when they are deep brown on the bottom. If you stir the mushrooms too early, all the liquid comes out and floods the pan with water, resulting in mushrooms that boil and thus never develop intense flavors.

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