Tuscan-style baked polenta

Tuscan-style baked polenta


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About this recipe: Polenta is the much loved ‘mashed potatoes’ of northern Italy, a delicious comfort food to many Italians that is now enjoyed around the world. In this recipe, Parmesan-flavoured ‘soft’ polenta – polenta that hasn't been left to set – provides the topping for a mixture of borlotti beans and a creamy wild mushroom sauce.

Norma MacMillan

Serves: 4 

  • 25 g (scant 1 oz) dried porcini mushrooms
  • 400 ml (14 fl oz) semi-skimmed milk
  • 1½ tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 15 g (½ oz) butter
  • 2 celery sticks, thinly sliced
  • 250 g (8½ oz) chestnut mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 tbsp plain flour
  • squeeze of lemon juice
  • 1 can borlotti beans, about 410 g, drained and rinsed
  • 170 g (6 oz) instant polenta
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 30 g (1 oz) Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • salt and pepper

Prep:45min  ›  Cook:20min  ›  Ready in:1hr5min 

  1. Place the dried mushrooms in a small saucepan and add 250 ml (9 fl oz) of the milk. Bring just to the boil, then remove from the heat and set aside to soak.
  2. Heat the oil and butter in a wide saucepan over a moderate heat. Add the celery and cook gently, stirring occasionally, for 3–4 minutes or until softened. Raise the heat, add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes or until softened.
  3. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Gradually mix in the remaining 150 ml (5 fl oz) milk and cook, stirring well, until the mixture just comes to the boil and thickens.
  4. Strain the milk from the porcini mushrooms and add it to the mushroom and celery sauce. Bring back to the boil, stirring. Coarsely chop the porcini and add to the pan. Simmer for 2 minutes, then add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Pour the mushroom sauce into a shallow ovenproof dish and spread out in an even layer. Scatter the borlotti beans on top. Set aside.
  6. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F, gas mark 6). In a heavy-based saucepan, cook the polenta in 750 ml (1¼ pints) boiling water, or according to the packet instructions, until it is thick. Remove from the heat and briskly stir in the eggs and about half of the grated Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Pour the polenta mixture over the mushrooms and beans. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan cheese over the top. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the filling is bubbling and the top is lightly browned. Serve hot.

Some more ideas

Replace the borlotti beans with canned pinto or cannellini beans. * Spread 500 g (1 lb 2 oz) spinach, steamed, well drained and coarsely chopped, over the mushroom sauce before adding the beans. * To make baked polenta with tuna, soften 2 chopped celery sticks, 2 chopped carrots and 1 chopped onion in the oil and butter. Stir in the flour, then gradually stir in 250 ml (8½ fl oz) vegetable stock and 120 ml (4 fl oz) semi-skimmed milk. Bring to the boil, stirring, and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add 2 cans tuna in spring water, about 200 g each, well drained, and stir gently, just to break up the large chunks of fish. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Prepare the polenta as in the main recipe, but omit the Parmesan. Pour the fish mixture into an ovenproof dish, cover with the polenta and sprinkle with 1 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan. Bake as in the main recipe.

Plus points

Polenta is very versatile: it can be served ‘soft’ with fish, meat and vegetable dishes as an alternative to pasta or rice, or it can be left to set, then cut up and grilled or fried. It is particularly useful for those who need to follow a wheat or gluten-free diet. * Milk is one of our most nourishing foods, being rich in calcium and protein as well as providing many B vitamins and phosphorus. * The oil obtained from olives is high in monounsaturated fatty acids. These healthy fats are believed to help lower blood cholesterol levels.

Each serving provides

copper * B2, B12, niacin, calcium, potassium, selenium, zinc * A, B1, B6, folate, iron

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