Polenta dish is perfect showcase for porcini mushrooms

By: Susie Iventosch, Special to Home & Garden
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It’s porcini season and if you look really hard, you can find these tasty mushrooms — fresh — in local markets from now through the middle of July. While dried porcini are usually fairly easy to spot year-round, fresh porcini are another story. “They’re elegant, flavorful and highly prized,” declared Jim Mills, sales manager for Produce Express in Sacramento. “Porcini, like morels and chanterelles, are wild mushrooms. We’re not able to cultivate them, so foragers have to go out into the wild to find them.” According to Mills, the season for porcini has traditionally been in the fall months, after the heat of summer and before the cold winter. But, for about the last two years, foragers have been able to locate them in the spring as well, coincidentally when morel mushrooms are normally found. Again, the temperate weather is a factor. It’s not a great idea for inexperienced folks to go hunting for wild mushrooms, but you can always call your local grocer to see if they plan to carry them or if they’re willing to special order them for you. Newcastle Produce (phone 916-663-2016) will be happy to special order these delectable fungi at a price of approximately $28 per pound. It is well worth the cost for a special occasion and this recipe is a wonderful way to use them. Sue Lizotte at Newcastle Produce says the store will have porcini as well as shiitake and oyster mushrooms this week. “We get them through a produce distributor in Sacramento, sometimes they are locally grown, sometimes not,” Lizotte said. This grilled polenta dish is served with a robust sauce of wild mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, parsley and cream, finished with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. When fresh porcini are no longer in season, resort to using the dried, and I think you’ll still be pleased with the result. Polenta alla Contadina (Serves 4) Polenta 1 cup polenta (enriched cornmeal) 3 cups water ¼ cup heavy cream 1 tablespoon crumbled “sweet” gorgonzola cheese (gorgonzola aged approximately 3 months) Pinch salt and pepper Heat water just to boiling, add cream and gorgonzola cheese. Slowly add polenta, stirring or whisking all the while. Reduce heat to low and continue to cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring often. When very thick, turn into greased dish, such as a bread pan, until set. Chill and when firm, slice into ¾ inch slices, approximately 3 inches square. Set aside, or refrigerate until ready to use. To grill, brush both sides with a dash of olive oil and grill on medium-heat on the barbecue, or on the range grill, for approximately one to two minutes per side. Spoon sauce over and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Wild Mushroom Sauce 1-2 tablespoons oil (7/8 canola oil, and 1/8 olive oil) 3 cups mushrooms, thinly sliced (combination of fresh shiitake, oyster and porcini) 1-2 cloves garlic, pressed ¼-1/3 cup julienned sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil, drained ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped Salt and pepper to taste ½ -3/4 cup heavy cream (use more or less cream depending upon desired sauce consistency.) Preheat a frying pan to very hot. Add oil, then garlic and mushrooms. Cook until mushrooms begin to brown, stirring or tossing occasionally. Add sun dried tomatoes, heat and toss together. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add parsley and cream. Cook until just lightly thickened. If sauce becomes too thick, simply add a few splashes of hot water. Spoon over grilled polenta and garnish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately. This sauce is also excellent over grilled fresh swordfish! Susie may be reached at suzi