This dish serves four, and, even though cooking the polenta can be rather a pain, it's a really good main course for a dinner party when served with a mixture of salad leaves, and plenty of red wine.
Polenta (serves 4)
12 oz polenta flour (a.k.a. cornmeal)
3 to 3 and a half pints of water
salt and black pepper
4 oz dried porcini mushrooms
1 and a half to 2 lb medium sized flat field mushrooms, sliced thickly
5 tablespoons oilve oil
5-7 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed and sliced thinly
1 tablespoon of fresh thyme (not dried)
1 glass of red wine
about 4 oz of fresh parmesan, in a block
salt and black pepper
Put the polenta into a jug so that it can be poured into the pan in a steady stream. Do not use 'Quick cook' polenta, it doesn't grill well.
Bring the water to a rolling boil in a large heavy pan and add one teaspoon of salt. Turn the heat down a little to an active simmer, and add the polenta flour slowly, stirring with a whisk until it is completely blended. The mixture will begin the change texture dramatically, thickening and bubbling volcanically. Reduce the heat to as low as possible, and stir well with a wooden spoon as it cooks, to prevent any skin forming on top. It's hard work, but keep stirring. Cook for about 40-45 minutes. It is cooked when the mixture is very dense, and falls away from the sides of the pan.
Transfer the mixture to a lightly greased baking tray or tinfoil, spreading it out to form a cake about one to one and a half inches thick. Leave until completely cold, then cut into wedges.
While the polenta is cooling, prepare the mushrooms.
Start to soak the porcini in some warm water (or a mixture of warm water and red wine) while cooking the polenta. This takes 15-20 minutes.
Heat about 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan, until the oil is very hot and starting to smoke. Add the sliced fresh mushrooms and a pinch of the thyme and fry for about 15-20 minutes, stirring constantly, but gently. When the mushrooms are soft and very dark, remove from the heat. Put the mushrooms to one side, and keep warm.
Wipe the pan clean, and heat the remaining oil. Strain the porcini, keeping the liquid in which the mushrooms have been soaked (passing through some muslin if you are worried about grit). Rinse the reconstituted mushrooms and squeeze them dry. Fry the garlic and the porcini gently. When the garlic begins to change colour, pour the porcini juices into the pan, with about half a glass of red wine. Simmer until the liquid reduces to about 3 tablespoons.
As this mixture is reducing, preheat a grill (broiler) until it's very hot. Brush the polenta with olive oil on each side and grill until crisp and browning on both sides (this will take about 5-8 minutes each side).
Add the cooked field mushrooms to porcini and garlic mixture, season with pepper and salt, and add the thyme.
Serve the polenta with the mushroom mixture, and some freshly grated or sliced parmesan. (Use a vegetable peeler to shave curling slices on top.) Eat with copious quantities of red wine.