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Winter Shiitake Mushroom Stew with Polenta

Rural Intelligence FoodHere in New England where it’s been very gray or very white, my breezy old kitchen seems to shake in the winter wind, and the supply of local fare is dwindling. So it’s time to winter forage, throw a log on the fire, crank up the Billie Holiday, and cook up a warming mushroom stew. In this case, winter foraging means driving over to Leslie Taft’s Blue Moon Shrooms, which is tucked back from the road near the river in Housatonic, MA.  The polenta is local, too (although it can be made from any coarsely ground corn.) For this recipe, I used freshly ground flint corn that was divinely corny, which I got from a new grain CSA, Pioneer Valley Heritage Grains. It’s a cool concept, and you should consider signing up for a share.

This stew is an extremely versatile recipe: You can serve it with thickly sliced and toasted peasant bread instead of the polenta. You can add more stock to make it a soup or even toss it over noodles. Serve the stew as is with soft polenta or let the polenta harden, then slice, oil and grill it.  This recipe ,akes 2 - 3 main course servings, but it’s easily doubled or tripled. (And if you’re free on Friday, Febuary 5,  at 7 p.m., come see me at the West Stockbridge Public Library.)
—Amy Cotler, The Locavore Way

Winter Shiitake Stew
Serves 2 - 3
4 dried shiitake mushrooms or 1-1/2 tablespoons dried mushroom powder
3⁄4 lb fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, sliced
1/4 cup oven or sun dried tomatoes (optional)
1/2 cup chopped leeks
2-1/2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or more, to taste
2-1/2 tablespoons flour
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (or combined water and stock)
About 2 tablespoons dry sherry or Madeira
Salt to taste, if needed
Freshly ground pepper to taste taste
About 3 tablespoons coarsely grated hard Parmesan-style cheese, preferably local
Chopped parsley leaves, optional

The Polenta
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably coarse
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (or combined water and stock)
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tablespoon butter (optional)
1/4 - 1/3 cup coarsely grated hard Parmesan-style cheese, preferably local

Rural Intelligence Food1. Soak the dried mushrooms in hot water to cover. When they are soft, drain, rinse and chop the mushrooms. Reserve the strained soaking liquid and the mushrooms together. If you are using mushroom powder, soak it in about 1/4 cup water and reserve. If you are using the optional oven dried tomatoes, soak in hot water until soft, Drain and slice thinly. Reserve.

2. Cook the fresh mushrooms and leeks in the butter in a medium non-stick pot or skillet over medium low heat, stirring frequently, until the leeks are wilted but not brown, about 3 minutes. Add the thyme and flour. Reduce heat to very low, and cook stirring constantly, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon, for about 2 - 3 minutes to cook the flour.

3. Turn the heat to medium. Pour in the stock, whisking as you pour. Add the Madeira or dry sherry, dried or powdered mushrooms and their liquid, the tomatoes if you are using them. (If you aren’t using homemade or low-sodium stock, substitute 1/4 cup of it with water to hold down the salt.) Simmer on a low heat for about 20 minutes, or until the texture of a thick soup. Season with salt, if needed, and freshly ground pepper to taste. Add an extra splash more of Madiera or sherry if you like.

4. Cook the polenta while the stew is simmering. Add 2 cups stock and one 1 cup of water, the garlic and the cornmeal to a small non-stick pot. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to low and cook, whisking occasionally until it begins to thicken. When the cornmeal starts to pull away from the sides of the pot after about 10 minutes, taste and add salt and pepper, if needed. (If not serving immediately, hold in a double boiler, stirring frequently to prevent lumps and adding water if necessary.) Before serving, stir in the butter, if you are using it, and cheese to taste.

5. To serve. Add the polenta to the bottom of a warm shallow bowl. Make a hole in the middle, then add the stew to it. Sprinkle with the reserved cheese and parsley, if you are using it. Serve immediately.

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Posted by Dan Shaw on 02/03/10 at 12:15 PM • Permalink