Serious Eats: Recipes

Seriously Meatless: Polenta with a Leek and Mushroom Ragu

[Photograph: Michael Natkin]

While meat meals are traditionally based around the "protein," it often makes sense to plan a vegetarian meal around the primary grain. For example, I'll begin with "I think I want rice tonight," then work from there to decide if that should lead in a Thai, Indian, or Chinese (and so on) direction. Polenta is one of my favorite starting points because it so willingly embraces just about any Italian-inspired topping.

For today's recipe I opted for a simple saute of leeks and mushrooms, enhanced with wine and finished with gorgonzola dolce (a mild blue cheese) and a fine aged balsamic vinegar. If you use great ingredients it doesn't really need to be any more complicated than this.

By the way, don't listen to anyone who says you need to stir polenta constantly for the entire 45 minutes or so that it takes to become smooth. Just give it a good beating every so often, and make sure it has enough water so it won't scorch. The rest will take care of itself.

Watch and you will easily see when the transformation from rough to creamy has happened. At that point, mix in some Parmigiano-Reggiano and your are done. For an even smoother texture, you can follow the San Francisco restaurant Zuni Cafe's method and hold it covered in a double boiler for half an hour or so.

Polenta with a Leek and Mushroom Ragu

About the author: Michael Natkin is an aspiring professional chef in Seattle. As the founder of the blog Herbivoracious, which was recently nominated for Saveur's first annual food blog awards, he's on a mission to show the world that vegetarian cuisine can be modern, satisfying and delicious. When he's not cooking, Michael is a senior software engineer at Adobe Systems.

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