Creamy Polenta with Wild Mushrooms

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If you’re looking for a sophisticated, yet approachable, appetizer to serve, you’ll definitely want to consider this dish.

Creamy polenta is very similar to Southern-style grits (think: Southern Shrimp and Grits), but the caramelized onions, sautéed wild mushrooms, and red wine reduction bring it all to another level of comfort food. Nothing short of amazing.

Two white bowls side by side each filled with creamy polenta and caramelized onions and wild mushrooms.

How To Make Creamy Polenta with Wild Mushrooms

Polenta has been around for generations and has a colorful history.

This fantastic dish has two main components: the creamy polenta and the onion and mushroom topping.

It’s a bit of a challenge to make them both simultaneously, but if you’re feeling courageous, go for it!

 

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The Ingredients You Will Need

There are numerous types of polenta, ranging from coarse, finely ground, to instant (or quick cook). We use Bob’s Red Mill and have great results.

Here’s what you’ll need to make creamy polenta

Chicken stock – Use vegetable or mushroom stock to keep the dish vegetarian
Milk – Whole milk is best
Polenta – Coarse or finely ground are both great options.
Butter – Unsalted
Salt – Kosher
Parmesan cheese – For depth of flavor

Here’s what you’ll need for the topping

Olive oil and unsalted butter – For Sautéing
Wild mushrooms – Porcini mushrooms are great but be sure to re-constitute them (see NOTES)
Onion – Chopped
Garlic – Minced
Balsamic vinegar – Aged is best
Red wine – Dry is best
Beef stock – Use vegetable or mushroom stock to keep the dish vegetarian
Thyme – Fresh

EXPERT TIP: You’ll want to stir the polenta with the liquids for about 15 to 20 minutes until thickened. It should have a similar consistency to risotto. At this point, stir in the butter and grated Parmesan cheese. See NOTES about preparing the polenta in advance.

A person dumping grated Parmesan cheese into a silver saucepan filled with creamy polenta.

Tips for Making Creamy Polenta with Wild Mushrooms

Maintain the Right Polenta Consistency – Regardless of what type of polenta you are using (coarse, fine, quick), you’ll want to continue adding enough liquid to create a creamy, velvety texture. If you make the polenta in advance, then you’ll definitely need to add more stock, usually at least 1 cup more. Once you get the right consistency, serve immediately.

Caramelize the Onions – Caramelizing the onions brings out the natural sugars in them and adds an incredible depth of flavor. This can take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes. Don’t have the heat to0 high, or you run the risk of burning the onions. They should slowly begin to turn a dark brown. Adding the mushrooms after the first 15 to 20 minutes adds additional flavor.

Vary Your Mushrooms – We love porcini mushrooms and they really add incredible flavor. However, it is very important to follow the package instructions on how to reconstitute them if they are dried. The mushroom broth is excellent when added to the polenta, too, but we recommend running it through a fine-mesh sieve, first, as the mushrooms most likely will leave behind small amounts of residue and/or dirt. Varying your mushrooms is great. Wonderful options include baby bella, shiitake, oyster, trumpet, and cremini.

EXPERT TIP: Use a good-quality dry red wine to deglaze the pan and deepen the flavor profile of the mushrooms and onions. Zinfandel, cabernet, and pinot noir are all excellent choices. For the balsamic, we recommend an aged Moderna variety.

A person pouring red wine from a small wine carafe into a skillet filled with caramelized onions and sautéed mushrooms.

How To Serve

We absolutely love to serve this incredible dish as an appetizer before the main course consisting of Italian Pot Roast, Shaved Balsamic Brussels Sprouts, or Slow-Cooker Beef Braciole.

Be careful, however, as the polenta is filling and the combination of flavors would be considered “rich.” A little goes a long way.

However, for this very reason, the dish can absolutely be served as a vegetarian main dish.

A close-up view of a white serving bowl filled with a mound of creamy polenta and topped with caramelized onions and porcini mushrooms.

Other Classic Italian First Course Dishes

Kicking an Italian feast off with a delicious appetizer, first course, or “primo” is fun and absolutely delicious. Here are a few of our favorites:

Spiendini (Roasted Bread and Mozzarella with Sauce)
Classic Caesar Salad
Roasted Beet and Burrata Salad
Rustic Lentil Soup
Italian Wedding Soup
Baked Eggplant Rollatini
Sausage-Stuffed Mushrooms
Baked Clams – Italian-Style
Fried Calamari with Cocktail Sauce
The Perfect Charcuterie Board

In the meantime, doesn’t this look incredible? Trust us, it is!

An overhead view of a white bowl filled with creamy polenta and caramelized onions and wild mushrooms next to a glass of red wine.

Ready to make one of the most memorable Italian-style appetizers of all time? Go for it!

And when you do, be sure to take a photo of it, post it on Instagram, and tag @HowToFeedaLoon and hashtag #HowToFeedaLoon!

A close-up view of a white serving bowl filled with a mound of creamy polenta and topped with caramelized onions and porcini mushrooms.

Creamy Polenta with Wild Mushrooms

Creamy Polenta with Wild Mushrooms is the ultimate Italian comfort food. We love to serve it as a first course, but remember, a little goes a long way. But, the taste and texture is about as good as it comes. If you make the polenta ahead of time, simply add more liquid (stock) until you've reached the desired consistency.
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Course: Appetizer or Entree
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: easy Italian appetizer, how to caramalize onions, how to cook polenta
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings: 4
Calories: 586kcal

Equipment

  • 1 medium-sized saucepan for the polenta
  • 1 Large skillet for the onions and mushrooms

Ingredients

For the Polenta

  • 2 cups chicken stock plus more, if needed
  • ½ cup polenta
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ¾ tsp Kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese grated

For the Mushroom Onion Sauce

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion sliced
  • 10 oz porcini mushrooms dried
  • 8 oz shiitake mushrooms sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • ½ cup red wine dry
  • ½ cup beef stock or chicken, or vegetable
  • 1 tbsp thyme fresh, plus a little more for garnish

Instructions

Make the Polenta

  • Place the stock and polenta in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring often.
    2 cups chicken stock, ½ cup polenta
  • Reduce heat to low and stir in the milk and salt. Stir until starting to thicken, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the butter and Parmesan cheese.
    1 cup whole milk, ¾ tsp Kosher salt, 2 tbsp unsalted butter, ¼ cup Parmesan cheese
  • If making ahead of time, reheat over medium heat and add more stock, stirring constantly, until creamy (up to 1 to 2 cups may be necessary).

Make the Onions/Mushrooms Sauce and Assemble

  • Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once shimmering, add the butter and stir with a wooden spoon until melted.
    2 tbsp unsalted butter, 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Stir in the onions and sauté, stirring frequently, until they have softened and started to turn a light brown.
    1 medium onion
  • Stir in the mushrooms and continue cooking for another 15 minutes. Stir in the garlic, thyme, and pinch of salt and pepper, and cook for 30 seconds more.
    10 oz porcini mushrooms, 8 oz shiitake mushrooms, 2 cloves garlic, Salt and pepper
  • Add the balsamic vinegar and stir to coat. Stir in the red wine and stock and bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to medium and simmer until slightly reduced, about 5 more minutes.
    1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, ½ cup red wine, ½ cup beef stock, 1 tbsp thyme
  • Serve by adding a layer of the creamy polenta in small bowls and then spoon the mushroom mixture over the top. Garnish with a pinch more of thyme.

Notes

See the video near the top of the blog post for visual guidance. If you liked the video, please subscribe to our YouTube channel. 
Both the polenta and onion/mushroom mixture takes about the same amount of time to make. If you're comfortable with preparing two items at the same time, then you can make them simultaneously on two burners. Otherwise, make the polenta first, and then make the onion/mushroom mixture.  Just before serving, add plenty more of the stock to the polenta until nice and creamy.  Cooled polenta firms up quite a bit, but will get nice and velvety if you add enough liquid. 
Remember, if using porcini mushrooms, you'll need to reconstitute them with warm, and then boiling water before cooking with them.
This dish is definitely served fresh, but leftovers will keep in the fridge for up 2 days. We don'e recommend freezing. 

Nutrition

Calories: 586kcal | Carbohydrates: 86g | Protein: 18g | Fat: 21g | Saturated Fat: 10g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 7g | Trans Fat: 0.5g | Cholesterol: 45mg | Sodium: 810mg | Potassium: 1668mg | Fiber: 11g | Sugar: 10g | Vitamin A: 628IU | Vitamin C: 8mg | Calcium: 188mg | Iron: 3mg
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