Thursday, December 8, 2011

Crispy Polenta Squares with Mushroom Ragu and Leek Jam

Whenever I think about Christmas, I think about appetizers.  Well, whenever I think about anything I think about appetizers.  Appetizers = party time, and I love me some party. 

Every Christmas we have an "appetizer-cook off" with my husband's family and cousins.  I usually spend the months of January - December day dreaming about the possibilities.  If I had it my way, there would only be bite sized food in the world so I could try twenty different things at once. 

These were absolutely fantastic and totally different.  I know I tend to be a bit meat heavy, so I thought I'd try something a off the beaten path to see what you guys think.  And want to hear the best part?  Charlie loved these.  The guy that would rather lick the sidewalks of Chicago on a Sunday morning than touch a mushroom...loved these.  I hope wherever you are, you are giving me a standing ovation.

Here are the ingredients:

Cooked and Chilled Polenta (recipe can be found here)
Wild Mushrooms (such as chanterelles, enoki, creminis, etc.)
Olive Oil
Unsalted Butter
White Wine
Truffle Salt (optional)
Truffle Oil (optional)
Black Pepper
Sea or Kosher Salt
Fontina Cheese

Start with a mixture of wild mushrooms.  You can use whatever mushrooms you like.  I would suggest checking Whole Foods.  They have a convenient pack of wild mushrooms (shown above) that works nicely. 

If you don't have access to a store that carries wild mushrooms, just grab a mixture of portabella mushrooms and button mushrooms and use those.  You just want a variety of flavors, colors, and textures here. 

Chop them up coarsely.  You want some big pieces and some smaller pieces, so a rough chop is fine.

Melt both olive oil and unsalted butter in a saute pan. Olive oil gives moisture, butter gives flavor. 

Toss all of the mushrooms into the pan and stir.

Chop your shallot like you would an onion.  Cut it half length wise.  Make cuts horizontally then vertically.  Then cut down/across. 

And you will end up with perfectly diced shallots.

There should be FAR more truffles in this truffle salt.  A few months ago Charlie caught me in the kitchen picking out the pieces of truffle and eating them.  You do realize you are eating SALT, right?  He's so judgemental.

I got my truffle salt at the Chopping Block in Chicago.  You can order it online or find it at most specialty food or spice stores.

So, throw in a heavy pinch of truffle salt into the mushrooms and add your chopped shallots. 

Wait until the mushrooms get nice and golden brown then add your white wine and let the mushrooms soak up the wine flavor for a few minutes.

Add the cream.

Stir to incorporate everything.  Taste and check for seasoning.  If you wanted to add fresh herbs to this, I would suggest thyme or chives.

Move the mushroom ragu to a bowl and set aside.

Now, let's move on to our leek jam.  So jam is sort of a misnomer, but I wasn't really sure what to call it.  It's not sugary sweet like traditional jams, but when the leeks cook down they become creamy and spreadable with a HINT of sweetness.  So it's jam.  Cause I said so. 

Cut off the tough green stems and discard.  We want the white, light green part of the leek.  Chop it fine, but not super fine.  You still want texture and to be able to see what the ingredients are on the polenta square.

Just like the mushrooms, add both butter and oil to your pan.

Roughly chop some garlic.

 I don't want to see the garlic in the jam so I just sauteed it very lightly for a few seconds until I could smell it cooking.

Throw in all of your leeks.

And saute.

Add a touch of cream just to bring the jam together.

Stir to incorporate and add some freshly ground black pepper and a pinch o' salt.

Move the leek jam to a bowl and set aside.

Yum.  So, if you wanted, you could toss one of these, or both of these with pasta, toast them in between bread with fontina, spread them on crostini, eat them by the spoonful, whateva.  Good alone, better together.

Pull out your polenta that has been chilling in the fridge.  Again, you can find detailed instructions on how to make the polenta, here.  It's easy, I promise.

You can use a knife, or a spatula, or whatever is easiest for you.  A pizza cutter works nicely to make nice even strips.

With a sharp knife, cut the other way so you have a nice square. These were about 1.5" - 2" squares.  As soon as I cut one, I used it to cut out the rest so they were as even as possible.  We aren't going for perfect.

Line them up and get them ready for fry time.

Heat up some olive oil in a non stick pan.  I would HIGHLY suggest using a non stick pan otherwise the polenta likes to stick.  I found this out the hard way.

Fry them in a pan until they are nice and crispy on each side.  This will take about 6 minutes or so on medium-high heat. 

If they are super greasy (mine were not) just set them on top of a paper towl to soak up any excess oil.

Fontina is such a good cheese for this recipe because of how creamy it is and how quickly it melts.  It's really delicious and has a sharpness at the end that holds up to the other flavors in the bite.

Shred up some fontina before the polenta is done cooking so you can place the fontina and on hot squares right away.  It's important that the cheese is able to melt.

Add a little dollop of the leek jam.  See how the cheese is nice and melty on the bottom?  Drool-a-palooza.

Then, add some of our mushroom ragu on top of the leek jam. 

So this is totally optional but I would do it if I were you.  I picked up some infused black truffle oil at Whole Foods.  It wasn't that expensive at all - I think it was around $10.  The key word here being infused - it has a light truffle flavor but enough where you can taste that delicious, heavenly flavor without spending a million dollars.

I thought these needed a finishing touch so I added some mico greens.  I put them on everything.  The are bright, fresh and add that beautiful finishing touch to recipes that have been made with love.  If you can't find micro greens, chopped chives or chopped green onions would work beautifully as well.  Stay hungry!

Crispy Polenta Squares with Mushroom Ragu and Leek Jam Recipe
Cooked and Chilled Polenta (recipe can be found here)
2 Tbs Olive Oil

Wild Mushroom Ragu
3 Cups Wild Mushrooms (such as chanterelles, enoki, and creminis, etc.)
2 Tbs Olive Oil
2 Tbs Unsalted Butter
1 Shallot, large
1/2 Cup White Wine
1/2 Cup of Cream
Heavy Pinch Truffle Salt (optional)

Leek Jam
1 Leek, large
1 Tbs Unsalted Butter
1 Tbs Olive Oil
2 Tbs Cream
2 Garlic Cloves
Kosher or Sea Salt
Black Pepper

Other Ingredients
3/4 Cup Fontina Cheese, shredded
Truffle Oil (optional), to taste
Micro greens or chopped chives (optional)

Roughly chop wild mushrooms.  Add to olive oil and butter, pre heating in saute pan.  Add mushrooms.  Stir until mushrooms become golden brown.  Add wine.  Stir for 2-3 minutes until  mushrooms absorb most of liquid.  Add cream, stir.  Add truffle salt.  Set aside.  Remove dark green stems from leek.  Finely chop white park of leek.  Add minced garlic to butter and olive oil pre heating in saute pan.  Stir.  Add leeks.  Once leeks become softened, add cream.  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside. Cut cooled polenta into squares of desired size, about 2" x 2".  Crisp polenta on each side in non stick skillet over medium heat with olive oil, about 6-7 minutes per side or until golden brown and crispy. Remove from heat and place on paper towels if polenta appears greasy.  Immediately add a little fontina cheese to each square while squares are hot so cheese can melt.  Add a little bit of leek jam and then add a little mushroom ragu on top.  Finish each with drizzle of truffle oil and something green, such as micro greens or chopped chives.  Then eat and ENJOY!


  1. Yum! Love seeing vegetarian options like this!

  2. "Yum!" Also, I'm beginning to worry about your abusive treatment of garlic. It's always, "Roughly chop," or, "Crush with the back of your hand," never, "Respect the garlic," or, "Massage the garlic," or, "Let the garlic relax with a glass of white wine and a DVR-ed episode of The Millionaire Matchmaker." I know you just want the garlic to be delicious and this is your way of expressing love, but you can't saute anything behind bars, so watch it.

  3. This looks so good. I am going to try to get my wife to cook this. She will probably order pizza or chinese food or something. She never cooks anything or does anything for me. Do you ladies have any friends who like Alabama football and cooking? Looks are not important.

  4. I need your help. I would like to take all the ingredients that you suggested, minus the polenta and add chicken broth and make a rich velvety soup. I want to take the polenta and crisp the heck out of it and top the hopefully delicious, rich velvety soup with polenta croutons. I don't want to waste ingredients, so please save me from myself if you don't think it would work. Thank You.

  5. That sounds amazing! What a good idea. I would add a ton more mushrooms, cook them the same way with some extra shallots and even some garlic, and then puree them in your blender. I would add those, along with some chicken or veggie broth, milk and cream to make cream of mushroom soup. You can either add the leeks before or after as a topping. You could easily make polenta croutons by just cutting the chilled polenta into smaller squares and then fry them in lots of olive oil. What a fabulous idea.

  6. @Witz Pickz - Garlic and I have a love hate relationship. Perfectly normal and healthy. :)

  7. Marinated tomatoes, cheese, polenta and other veggies are excellent any time of the week


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