On Saturday when we were walking around the neighborhood, we were debating dinner, trying to figure out exactly what we’d have that night. Thinking about the vegetables we had left from our CSA pickup (about a pound of cauliflower and a huge amount of dill), it looked as if we’d do something with the last of the cauliflower. Perhaps soup? Perhaps a small gratin? Or maybe something with the dill? We just didn’t know. After about a mile and a half of walking, we thought about making polenta. We love polenta. Then we realized that we had a few limes in the fridge, and the idea of lime polenta was born.
After all, what goes better with corn than lime? It’s a delicious combination, and we figured that since polenta is a coarse ground corn, lime polenta would be great. We could have the cauliflower, too, by roasting it, then adding some mushroom ragu, and we’d have one of those trendy one-bowl meals. As you might guest from the introduction, this recipe is all ours, so we get all the blame (and the credit, too).
For the dried mushrooms, we used a mix of shiitake, porcini, and oyster. All of these are easy to find online and add great flavor. If you don’t have dried mushrooms, don’t sweat it. Use about a cup of vegetable broth in place of the reserved liquid and use just fresh mushrooms for your ragu. Just in case you don’t know, polenta is simply a coarse grind of cornmeal, and, if possible, you should try to use it, since the texture is part of what you are going for.
Procedure in detail:
There may seem to be a lot of things to do for this recipe, but all are pretty easy. We suggest making the ragu first, since that can hold for quite a while over low heat, then the cauliflower, since that takes nearly an hour, and, finally, the polenta, because when that’s done, you’ll want to start serving.
For the ragu:
Rehydrate mushrooms. Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Use about a cup and a half, although the exact amount isn’t critical; however, you do want enough to help make gravy. If needed, place a small plate or dish on top to keep the mushrooms submerged. Let the mushrooms rehydrate for about 30 minutes. Remove the mushrooms and give them a good rinse — there’s often grit in dried mushrooms — and strain the liquid through a coffee filter — again, get rid of that grit. Chop the mushrooms and set aside for now.
Make roux. In a medium saucepan, stir together the flour and oil and place over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until the mixture starts bubbling. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook for about 5 minutes.
Add onions. Stir in the onions — it’ll sizzle — and cook until tender, about 5 minutes more. Don’t let the onions brown, though. Once tender, stir in the minced garlic and continue to cook, stirring, for about a minute more. Just long enough so you can smell the garlic cooking.
Add mushrooms. Stir in all the mushrooms, the fresh and the dried, until coated with some of the flour mixture.
Add liquid. Pour in the reserved mushroom liquid and stir continuously until the mixture thickens. The mushrooms will still need to cook for a while and they’ll release more liquid, but the consistency should be quite thick.
Season and hold. Once thickened, stir in the vinegar, taste, and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, while you work on the cauliflower and polenta. If needed, you can add a bit of water to keep the gravy from thickening too much.
For the cauliflower:
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with that miracle of the kitchen, baking parchment.
Spread and season. Spread the cauliflower florets into an even layer on the prepared pan. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the top, then season with salt and pepper. We used about 1/2 tsp kosher salt, maybe a bit less, and several good grinds of pepper. Stir the cauliflower around and place in the oven.
Roast. Let the cauliflower roast for about 40 minutes, or until tender and charred in spots. Naturally, give the cauliflower a quick stir from time to time, being careful when you reach into the oven. The cauliflower releases a lot of moisture, and that’s steam in the oven, and it hurts to get a steam burn.
Keep warm. If needed, lower the temperature of the oven to keep the cauliflower warm until serving time. A difference of 15-20 minutes won’t matter one little bit.
For the polenta:
Boil water. Place the water and salt in a large saucepan over high heat and bring to a rolling boil.
Add polenta. Okay, there’s a trick to this. If you add all the polenta at once, you’ll have lumpy polenta. You don’t want that. Instead, start stirring the water rapidly, and slowly drizzle in the polenta. If needed, lower the heat to keep the polenta from boiling over, but keep the water boiling as you go. Once all the polenta is in, lower the heat to medium and continue stirring until the polenta starts to thicken, about 5 minutes. Now you can reduce the heat to low.
Stir. Continue to cook the polenta on low, stirring quite often, and making sure to scrape the sides and corners of the pan. It’ll continue to thicken as you work, and, after about 40 minutes, it should be quite thick.
Season. Add the lime zest and the juice and stir in. If the lime juice thinned the polenta appreciably, cook it for a few more minutes, stirring to help cook off moisture. Taste and add pepper as needed.
Serve. We scooped the polenta into the middle of the bowl, ringed it with roasted cauliflower, then placed a hearty scoop of mushroom ragu onto the center of the polenta.
We really liked the lime polenta and will definitely make more in the future. We were right about the lime corn mixture; it tastes just great. We might even increase the amount of lime, depending on what we’re having along side or with the polenta. The roasted cauliflower is so easy, and it’s a great way to use a lot all at once. It turns slightly nutty as it roasts, and all the moisture baking off concentrates the flavor. This is a solid four-star recipe.