Among other wildly exciting weekend events, chanterelle mushrooms were on sale for about a third of the usual price at Costco. Obviously that calls for buying an entire pound, because monumental happenings such as the peak of chanterelle season happen only once a year. The beauty of chanterelles is that unlike most mushrooms, they retain moisture in a way so that once roasted, they have a deeply caramelized flavor without a shriveled texture.
Chanterelles pair well with the foods from the mountainous regions of Northern Italy—the climate there is perfect for growing chanterelles, Arborio rice, and polenta, which explains the abundance of chanterelle risottos and polentas on Italian menus in the fall. I decided to roast the chanterelles with shallots and thyme, then use them to top a sort of polenta tart, made from cooked and cooled parmesan polenta.
Now, polenta has a reputation for causing arm fatigue and general irritation after thirty minutes of constant stirring, but a few years ago I found a method for cooking polenta from Cook’s Illustrated that has revolutionized the polenta process. Basic ingredients (ones that have a pH greater than seven) weaken the walls of the corn cells, allowing for more water absorption in a shorter amount of time. Cooking polenta over extremely low heat with a pinch of baking soda (a base) allows polenta to be ready in under half an hour, with almost no stirring.
The polenta is poured into a pie pan and cooled lightly to let it set. While the mushrooms roast, the polenta gets quickly baked to crisp the top, then the mushrooms are spread on the top with some parmesan. After a few more minutes in the oven, the tart is sliced into wedges and served for a hearty and unique fall dinner.
Polenta and Chanterelle Tart
Polenta technique adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
4 cups water
1 teaspoon table salt
1 cup polenta (medium-grind yellow cornmeal)
1 pinch baking soda
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
3 medium shallots, thinly sliced
1 lb. chanterelle mushrooms, halved from top to bottom
½ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- For the polenta: Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan, then add the salt. Slowly whisk in the polenta in a continuous stream until fully incorporated. Whisk in the baking soda, turn the heat down to the lowest setting, and simmer gently for 25-30 minutes until the polenta is thick and tender, whisking every 10 minutes. Whisk in the butter and ½ cup of the parmesan until smooth, then pour the polenta into a greased, 9 inch pie pan and smooth into an even layer. Set the polenta aside for 40 minutes to set. At this point, you can refrigerate the polenta for up to one day before continuing with the recipe.
- For the mushrooms: Preheat the oven to 400F and have a rimmed baking sheet handy. Toss the shallots, mushrooms, thyme, salt and 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil together, then spread into an even layer on the baking sheet. Roast for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven.
- While the mushrooms roast, place the pie pan of polenta in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the polenta from the oven, then sprinkle the remaining ½ cup parmesan evenly on the top. Once the mushrooms have finished roasting, remove them from their pan and place them in an even layer on top of the polenta. Put the polenta dish back in the oven for 8-10 minutes, until everything is hot and the parmesan cheese has melted. Remove the polenta from the oven, drizzle with the remaining ½ tablespoon of olive oil, and cut into wedges and serve.
Note: If you do not have access to chanterelles, substitute an equal weight of button or cremini mushrooms and roast them for 25-30 minutes.