I haven't been very enthusiastic about cooking lately. Maybe it was falling on the tile. Maybe it's the crazy new prescription in my eye glasses, which makes chopping and slicing a brand new, and challenging, experience. I wanted something that tasted great, but didn't require doing anything that could cause me to cut off a finger. I saw this recipe for Polenta Gratin with Spinach and Wild Mushrooms in Food & Wine magazine. It seemed easy to prepare and was touted as a "staff favorite," so I assumed it might taste pretty good. And it contains thyme, which qualified it for Weekend Herb Blogging! WHB, created by Kalyn, now travels to different areas of the world every other weekend. Two weeks ago, it was in Italy and this weekend it's visiting Cate at Sweetnicks. Please go over to Cate's and see what she and the other herb bloggers have prepared. You'll be glad you did. http://kalynskitchen.blogspot.com
One reason I was curious about this recipe is that it uses prepared polenta. I love polenta, but have never warmed to the logs of polenta sold in grocery stores. They taste a little strange to me, faintly sour. But, here was my opportunity to give them another try. The recipe was easy. Along with the prefab polenta, it also calls for a bag of pre-washed baby spinach, eliminating two chores that can take a lot of time.
OK, things to keep in mind about this recipe: You may need to use a smaller baking dish than called for in the recipe. The sauteed mushrooms and spinach were layered into a dish, along with a white sauce and slices of polenta. The recipe called for a 2 quart casserole dish, but looking at the amount of the ingredients, I thought that would be too big. So, I used one that held 1.5 quarts and there was plenty of room in the dish.
Second, the picture of the gratin in Food & Wine showed a finished dish where you could clearly see the overlapped slices of polenta. I put all the cheese on top of the gratin and baked it, as specified in the recipe, and wound up with a thick layer of melted cheese on top, obscuring the polenta slices. Wanting to see the slices, I wound up poking a lot of the cheese down into the sauce before I finished it off under the broiler. The picture shows the dish after the cosmetic surgery. Next time, I'll put half the cheese under the polenta slices, with the rest on top.
Third, the finished gratin was delicious, but there was a lot of savory broth in the bottom of the dish. Even though the spinach and mushrooms were sauteed and had no visible moisture when they were put into the casserole dish, I assume they exuded liquid while baking. But, the broth was very nice, so I didn't mind at all. I can understand why this dish was so popular with the staff at Food & Wine. And the prefab polenta tasted great.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
12 ounces sliced mixed wild mushrooms (5 cups)
1 large shallot, minced
8 ounces prewashed baby spinach (8 lightly packed cups)
1/2 teaspoon thyme
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3/4 cup chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1/2 cup cream
One 18-ounce log of prepared polenta, cut into 1/4-inch slices
3 ounces Gruyère cheese, shredded (1 cup)
1. Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the mushrooms and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 6 minutes. Add the shallot and cook over moderately low heat for 3 minutes. Add the spinach, thyme and nutmeg and cook over high heat until the spinach has wilted, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Spread the spinach evenly in a 2-quart baking dish. (Or you may choose a smaller baking dish.)
2. In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour over moderately high heat. Add the stock and cream and whisk until thickened, about 5 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper and pour over the spinach. Arrange the polenta slices on top of the spinach in overlapping concentric circles, pressing to submerge the polenta slightly. Sprinkle the Gruyère on the polenta, cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes.
3. Preheat the broiler. Uncover the polenta and broil 6 inches from the heat for about 2 minutes, or until golden. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with fresh thyme and serve.