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.
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
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.
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.
How To Serve
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.
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
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!
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!
Creamy Polenta with Wild Mushrooms
- 1 medium-sized saucepan for the polenta
- 1 Large skillet for the onions and mushrooms
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
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.