In the meantime, I received several requests for the dish I contributed, so here it is:
Polenta Casserole with Sauteed Mushrooms, Blue Cheese and Walnuts (This recipe originally came from a Cooks Illustrated cookbook called Cover and Bake...I have changed the recipe a bit.)
2.5 cups whole milk (I used 1% and that worked just fine)
3 cups water
1.5 cups instant polenta
2 tbsp. butter
1 garlic clove, pressed
black pepper to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
12 ounces portabella mushroom caps, brushed clean and sliced 1/4 " thick
1 1/4 lbs. white button mushrooms (I used half crimini here), stems discarded, brushed clean and sliced 1/4" thick
1 lg. red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1-2 tbsp. minced FRESH thyme leaves
2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed and re-hydrated in 1/2 cup boiling water (takes about 15-20 minutes) with soaking water reserved
black pepper to taste
5 oz Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled (I used Stilton because that is what I had in the fridge), about 1 1/4 cups
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped and lightly toasted.
parsley or arugula- optional
1. Adjust the oven rack to the middle and heat it to 400.
2. For the Polenta: bring the milk, water and 2 tsp. of salt to a simmer in a large, heavy bottomed pot, over med.-high heat. Somewhat slowly, pour the polenta into the boiling liquid while stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Reduce the flame to the lowest possible heat. (You do not want the polenta to boil or bubble at all...just release little puffs of steam. My stove runs hot so I needed to put a flame tamer under the pot.) Cook, vigorously stirring every minute or so. The polenta will come together quickly. Mine only took about 4 to 5 minutes...although many directions say to cook instant polenta for 10 or so minutes. It should be soft, smooth and retain none of its former crunchy cornmeal self. Taste it to make sure. Turn off the heat, stir in the butter and garlic. Season with pepper to taste. Cover the pot to keep the polenta from drying out.
3. For the topping:, heat the oil in a dutch over over high heat until shimmering. (Olive oil has a very low burn point, one of the lowest for oils, so this will happen quickly.) Add the mushrooms ( except porcini), onion and salt. Cook, stirring often until the mushrooms have released their liquid, shrunk and browned- about 20 minutes.. Add garlic, thyme, porcini and it's soaking liquid. Cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Spread the cooked polenta into a 9"x13" pan that you have lightly coated with oil or butter. Spread mushrooms on top and sprinkle with cheese and walnuts. Bake until the polenta has heated through- about 20 minutes. Cool a tad and then sprinkle with parsley or arugula. I recommend the latter.
I made this ahead and put it all together except the nuts. I covered it in Saran. Two days passed and, when I was ready, let it sit at room temp. for an hour before putting it in the oven. Cook it for 50 minutes. It will be a bit bubbly.
The polenta comes out beautifully creamy and the earthy flavors of the other ingredients are perfect compliments.
I am having a dinner party this weekend to welcome new neighbors and all the eating issues of our guests require us to go completely vegetarian. I am going to make this again.....along with an eggplant timbale that I will share with you another time.
Given that we are having another snow storm starting tomorrow, this would make a great snuggle-in-front-of-the-fireplace dinner entree.