Polenta crostini with mushrooms

Polenta crostini with mushrooms

Crostini di polenta con i funghi

By
From
Acquacotta
Makes
About 18 crostini
Photographer
Emiko Davies; Lauren Bamford

The hard work goes into preparing this firm polenta, but once it is cooked and set (which can be done well in advance) you only need to slice it, then grill, bake or fry the polenta slices to crisp them up. Polenta, or ground cornmeal, is naturally free of gluten so these make a wonderful crostini alternative with just about any kind of topping – but they are particularly good with something juicy like ragu or this mushroom topping.

In Italy, polenta generally comes in three different types: bramata, which has a coarse grain, and is good for making a firmer polenta; fioretto, a fine-grain cornmeal, ideal for soft, creamy polenta or for baking cakes or biscuits; and instant polenta. The instant variety is partially cooked, then dried again, and takes just minutes to prepare. What you make up for in time, however, you’ll lose in flavour and texture (much like quick cooking rice). I find it’s only really useful for baking into cakes if you can’t get the finer ground fioretto.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
300g coarse-ground polenta, (such as bramata)
olive oil, for greasing and/or drizzling (optional)

Mushroom topping

Quantity Ingredient
500g mushrooms
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 handful herbs, such as calamint or thyme salt and pepper
salt
pepper

Method

  1. To prepare the polenta crostini, cook the polenta in 1 litre of water and a good pinch of salt in a large non-stick saucepan over the lowest heat for about 30–40 minutes to create a very dense, very thick polenta. Use a wooden spoon to stir regularly – not constantly, but you want to give it a good mix every couple of minutes. It may help to have another pair of hands to take over when your arms get tired. If big bubbles start emerging in the polenta, remove it from the heat for a minute, then continue. When you think the polenta is ready, taste it – it should not taste floury or feel grainy. It should have a soft and creamy texture.
  2. Take out a baking tray or a shallow casserole dish, about 21 x 30 cm. Line it with baking paper or grease it with olive oil. When the polenta has cooked, transfer it to the baking tray. Quickly (as it sets fast), press the polenta down with a silicone spatula – or with damp hands if it’s not too hot – spreading it out as you go, until it is about 1.5 cm thick, and smooth and even on top. Put the tray in the fridge if you have space, but the benchtop is fine if you don’t. Once completely cool and set, cut the polenta into rectangular slices approximately 5 x 7 cm. This can all be done in advance.
  3. When ready to serve, there are many ways to prepare the polenta slices – ideally you want them golden, crisp and crunchy outside and warm and soft inside. To bake, place the polenta slices on a baking tray lined with baking paper, drizzle with a little olive oil and bake for approximately 20 minutes at 200°C until they are golden. Alternatively, you can brush them with a bit of olive oil and then grill, sear or even barbecue them until golden, or deep-fry them in hot oil.
  4. In the meantime, prepare the mushroom topping. Cut off the ends of the stems, clean the caps gently of any dirt with some paper towel and slice thinly. Flatten the garlic cloves with the back of a knife and place in a frying pan with the olive oil over medium heat. Let the olive oil infuse with the garlic for 2 minutes, then add the mushrooms and cook until soft. The type of mushrooms you use will dictate how long this takes, but most will be ready in under 5 minutes. Remove the garlic cloves, add the fresh herbs and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Top the hot crostini with the warm mushroom mixture and serve immediately.

Substitutions

  • Use any mushroom you like for this; a mixture of different types is even better than just one kind. Calamint (Nepitella in Italian) is a wild herb that likes to grow in cracks along less-travelled paths or in tufts, hidden in the grass, only revealing itself with a strong, sweet, minty perfume when trodden on. It’s the favourite herb to partner with mushrooms in Tuscany. If you can’t find it, you can use a mixture of marjoram or oregano and mint or just substitute it completely with thyme, which is also very nice with mushrooms.

Variation

  • Leftover polenta can be cut into bite-sized pieces or gnocchetti (little gnocchi). They’re placed on a greased ovenproof dish with Sugo Maremmano over the top and baked at 180°C for 10–15 minutes.
Tags:
Italian
Tuscany
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