Winter Mushroom Ragu over Fried Polenta Cakes

This meatless dish is hearty, comfort food – perfect for winter.  Believe it or not, but it’s been dark and rainy here in Hawaii, and I think that it’s been that way for other typically sunny places like California as well.  Inspiration struck me in the grocery store when I saw some organic polenta; I had a leaning towards something a little more luxurious but not too heavy.  Big slabs of meat are not for me.  :)

This ragu came together rather quickly.  I used a combination of fresh white button mushrooms (cremini would be delicious), and had a packet of dried wild mushroom medley.  Remember – save the liquid that you soak your dried mushrooms in; it makes a wonderful, rich sauce at the end and is a great alternative to using something like beef broth.  All that umami you get in the mushrooms, tomato paste, and parmesan cheese sprinkled on these cakes at the end packs a lot of luscious flavor.  These would be great as an appetizer or with a side salad.  Take advantage of these last couple months of winter – what’s your favorite winter dish?

Winter Mushroom Ragu over Fried Polenta Cakes

makes 10-12

For the Mushroom Ragu:

8 oz button or cremini mushrooms, halved

0.88 oz (25 grams) Dried Mushroom Medley (mix of Porcini, Shiitake, Black and Oyster Mushrooms), rinsed and soaked/reconstituted in 1 cup warm water; liquid reserved

1/2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 Tbsp unsalted butter, divided

2 Tbsp finely chopped shallot

1 Tbsp minced garlic

1/8 tsp dried thyme

1/4 tsp dried rosemary

1/4 tsp kosher salt

1 Tbsp all-purpose flour

1 cup reserved mushroom liquid

1/2 Tbsp tomato paste

1 tsp Worchestershire sauce

2 Tbsp half-and-half

For the polenta cakes:

1-lb (16 oz) tube of prepared organic polenta

2 tsp olive oil

Freshly grated black pepper

Parmesan cheese, for grating

Fresh chives, for garnish


1.  In a medium skillet, heat up the 1/2 Tbsp olive oil and 1/2 Tbsp butter over medium heat.  Add the shallots and cook for about 1 minute; then add the garlic.  Add the button/cremini and reconstituted dried mushrooms to the pan.  Add the thyme and rosemary; sprinkle with salt.  Cover the pan and cook for another 3-4 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender.

2.  When the mushrooms are tender, transfer them to a bowl.  Add another 1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter to the pan along with 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour, stir together until the flour mixture begins to darken and bubble, about 1 minute.  Add the mushroom liquid, tomato paste, Worchestershire sauce, and a pinch of salt to the mixture, stirring constantly until the mixture begins to thicken and reduce a bit, about 2-3 minutes.  Add the mushrooms back into the pan; combine all ingredients and season to taste.  At the end, stir in the half-and-half.  Take off the heat.

3.  In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Slice up the polenta into 12 1/2″-thick circles and fry both sides until golden brown, and drain on paper towels when done.  Freshly crack black pepper on both sides.

4.  Assembly: Plate the polenta cakes in a single layer.  Spoon the mushroom ragu evenly over the cakes; top with freshly grated parmesan cheese, more black pepper if you like, and sprinkle with fresh chives.

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13 Responses to Winter Mushroom Ragu over Fried Polenta Cakes

  1. Beatrice says:

    I always think of polenta as a comfort food — this looks comforting but also elegant.

  2. nutrition to kitchen says:

    Thanks Beatrice – it definitely hit the spot!

  3. Phi says:

    This sounds like real cozy food. Mushroom and polenta sounds like a yummy combo.

  4. YUM! I make a similar mushroom medley as a crostini…..but the poleta sounds tasty!

  5. nutrition to kitchen says:

    Phi – you got me into the dried mushroom medley – thanks for getting it for me the first time! :)

    CC: Yes, this would also be delicious on crostini. I am always for toasty bread!

  6. Your photos make me drool. I like mushroom ragu equally well over soft polenta. I add Worchestershire to the mushrooms too! And I sometimes coat sliced polenta in parmesan, then saute it until the cheese is crunchy. That is good too.

  7. nutrition to kitchen says:

    Linda – Mmmm, I think that parmesan-crusted polenta sounds mouth-watering. Will definitely try that next time!

  8. Phi says:

    Oh Tram! Thanks for the shout-out I’m so glad you like the medley =)

  9. Those look beautiful! I recently saw a recipe for a mushroom polenta that I wanted to try, but yours looks 10 times better. I’m making yours instead!

  10. Am I glad I checked out your blog tonight! This looks sooo great. I actually have some dried mushrooms in my pantry that I’ve been wondering what to do with. And prepared polenta. Linda’s idea about coating it in parmesan sounds divine, too!

  11. I ate polenta last week at Rancho la Puerta spa and decided to make it when I got home. Well, this recipe is perfect! I love wild mushrooms and will add this to my recipes to make pile! Thanks.

  12. nutrition to kitchen says:

    Marsha – it was meant to be! I know what you’re making for dinner tonight! :)

    Janice – You’re so lucky you were able to go to Rancho la Puerta, teach, and do yoga all week! So jealous ;)

  13. nutrition to kitchen says:

    Betsy – you are too sweet. Thank you for the kind comments :)

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