Perhaps that should be Kalessarole? Okay, okay, from all the groans we hear, perhaps not. Anyway, we happen to love polenta, and we love mushrooms. This time of year, we get a lot of kale in our CSA share, so, when we saw this recipe, we knew we’d be making it. And soon.
Now, we’ll say right up front that this recipe is really only based on the idea of a Polenta, Mushroom, and Kale Casserole recipe that we saw in Vegan Holiday Cooking from The Candle Cafe, by Joy Pierson, Angel Ramos, & Jorge Pineda; we’ll also say that our version is most definitely not vegan. In modifying this recipe, we took the main idea, that of kale and mushrooms layered between polenta and topped with marinara and cheese, and just made our own Scratchin’ It version. If you’re comfortable in the kitchen, you should do the same, rather than following our recipe exactly. We will note that we changed the ratio of water to polenta — theirs was too thick for this recipe, way too thick; we think ours will work better.
You really don’t need to use kale in this recipe, as any type of green will work: spinach, chard, etc. Or, you could even leave out the greens and increase the amount of mushrooms, or go mushroom-less, but with double greens. You get the idea. For the mushrooms, we just used the common white button mushrooms that you can pick up at any supermarket. For the wine, we used a red this time, but any kind of wine that you like is fine. And, in case you don’t already know, polenta is just a coarser grind of corn meal. Finally, Parmesan cheese does not come in a green cylinder, regardless of what the label says.
Procedure in detail:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly oil an 8×8 inch baking dish, and set aside.
For the Marinara:
Cook onions. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper, plus a pinch of red pepper flake, if desired. The salt will help release the juices from the onions, making them cook a bit faster, plus it’ll make them taste good. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until soft, 5 to 7 minutes.
Add garlic. Toss in the garlic and cook, just until you smell the garlic cooking, about 1 minute. You may think that isn’t long enough, but, remember, this sauce is baked later, meaning more cooking time.
Add tomatoes. Stir in the tomatoes, oregano, and basil. Of course, if you want to add your other favorite spices, do so. It’s your sauce.
Simmer. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes. Just long enough to get flavors released into the tomato sauce, but not so long to give the sauce a “cooked” taste. You want a fresh taste at this point.
Season. Taste the sauce and add salt, pepper, and, perhaps a bit of sugar, as seasoning. We find that a small amount of sugar can help round out the taste of a tomato sauce. Not much sugar, though. We generally find 1/2 to 1 teaspoon is enough.
Remove from heat. That’s it for your sauce. While we’ll use this for the polenta dish, we also use this sauce as a quick tomato sauce for pasta, or other meals.
For the mushrooms and kale:
Cook mushrooms. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onions, garlic, and mushrooms. Add a bit of salt and pepper to help release liquid from the mushrooms, and cook, stirring a few times, until the liquid released is completely evaporated, and the mushrooms are starting to stick to the pan, about 8 to 10 minutes. This will sear the mushrooms, providing a better flavor.
Add wine. Pour in the wine and scrape up any bits that have stuck to the pan. Continue to cook, stirring often, until almost all the wine has evaporated, about 5 minutes.
Add kale. Finally, add the kale or other greens, and cook, stirring often, until wilted and somewhat tender, about 5 more minutes. Remember that everything is baked, so don’t sweat the timing or done-ness.
Season. As with everything you cook, give the mushrooms and greens a taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
Remove from heat. Take the pan off the heat and set it aside while you make the polenta.
For the polenta:
Boil salt water. Bring the water and salt to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium, enough to keep it boiling, but not so much that it’ll boil over when you add the polenta.
Add polenta. Start whisking the water, and, while whisking, slowly pour in the polenta. If you add it too fast, you’ll have lumps. If needed, adjust heat to keep everything from boiling over, or splattering you with hot polenta.
Whisk. Continue whisking until the polenta thickens, about 5 minutes.
Remove from heat. Take the pan of polenta off the stove, as we’re ready to assemble our casserole.
Layer polenta. Pour about half of the polenta into the prepared baking dish and smooth into an even layer.
Layer mushrooms and cheese. Scoop all of the kale and mushrooms over the layer of polenta, spreading and evening out the top to make a somewhat smooth layer.
Layer polenta. Add the remaining polenta and smooth it out as best you can. It might be a little ragged-looking, that’s okay.
Top. Spoon the marinara sauce on top, trying to cover all the polenta, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and green onions.
Bake. Bake until bubbling and hot all the way through and the cheese is melted and golden brown, about 30 minutes.
Stand. Those greens and mushrooms will really hold in the heat, so let the casserole stand for about 10 minutes before serving. This will also allow the polenta to firm up a bit.
We really, really like this dish. It was hearty and filling, but not in a heavy, oh-I-ate-too-much-now-I-need-to-go-lie-down kind of way, but in a that-was-quite-satisifying kind of way. A good way, in other words. We were going to give this a five-star rating, but, when we think about having to make sauce, then cook mushrooms and kale, followed by the polenta and baking, it does seem like a lot of work. It’s not hard work, mind you, but it is a bit of prep. So, we’ll say four stars. Agreed?