It’s no secret we’re big fans of local foodie Julia Busuttil Nishimura of OSTRO, we keep inviting her back to contribute to Tasty Tuesday and luckily for us, she keeps saying yes! Today we revisit her incredible creamy polenta and mushroom ragú, inspired by time living and studying abroad in Italy.
This series was extra special as Julia partnered with her real life bestie, local ceramicist Jessilla Rogers, to create a range of plates and bowls to perfectly complement the menu. DREAM TEAM.
I love the noticeable changes in seasons, and none more so than the transition from Summer to Autumn. The leaves are turning the most amazing colours and the nights are just chilly enough to pull out my winter woollies. I also adore the food I am drawn to during these Autumnal months – slow-cooked braises, hearty soups and stews. For me, Autumn all about food that satisfies and comforts.
While many Italians, especially in the North, now see polenta as almost a national treasure, it had very humble beginnings. It was initially brought to Italy in the 16th century and was considered peasant food. It was a meal with a purpose – to fill the bellies of hungry Italians. Although still immensely filling, polenta now often takes center stage on a table, poured onto large wooden boards and paired with rich stews, seafood or artisan salamis and richly flavoured with milk, cream, butter or parmesan. It is comfort food at its best!
I love cooking my polenta in both milk and water, to give it a really creamy texture. Some prefer stock, but I think it overpowers the delicate flavour of the polenta itself. Try and coerce someone else into stirring the polenta for you while you get on to the mushrooms! As it begins to thicken, the polenta stirring becomes an official workout and requires your undivided attention.
Note: Electric stovetop polenta mixers exist for a very good reason. Don’t worry though, polenta has been made for hundreds of years with just a pot and a spoon! You can do it! Also, if you can’t source a variety of different mushrooms for the ragú, the usual button mushrooms will still be amazing!
Ingredients (Serves 4)
For the polenta
- 750ml milk
- 250g polenta
- 80g parmesan, finely grated
- 50g unsalted butter
- 150ml thickened cream
For the mushrooms
- 80g unsalted butter
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1kg assorted mushrooms, such as chestnut, Swiss brown, button and oyster, brushed, trimmed and halved, sliced or left whole if small
- 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 4 sprigs of thyme, plus extra to serve
- 80ml white wine
- 1 tbsp Italian parsley, roughly chopped (optional)
In a large heavy pot, bring the milk and 750ml of water to the boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and add 1tsp of salt and the polenta in a thin steady stream, whisking to prevent lumps.
Cook for 30-40 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until polenta is smooth and silky. You may need to add a little extra water if polenta becomes too thick and hard to stir. Add the parmesan, butter and cream. Season to taste and keep warm. If the polenta cools too much, it will harden, so this is really important.
Meanwhile for the mushrooms, in a large pan, heat half the butter and a drizzle of olive oil. When butter is foaming, add the mushrooms and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme, and continue to cook until mushrooms are tender and garlic has softened.
Add the wine to the mushrooms and simmer for a few minutes until the liquid has reduced by half. Finish off the sauce by adding the remainder of the butter. Stir to combine.
To serve, pour the polenta on a wooden board and tumble the mushrooms on top. Sprinkle over the extra thyme leaves and chopped parsley, if using, and serve immediately.