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Cornmeal (Recipe: polenta with wild mushroom ragout) {vegetarian}

Polenta with wild mushroom ragout

An amazing thing to know about cornmeal:

Cornmeal can be anything you want it to be -- and how many times in life do we wish we could make something, or someone, be exactly what we want it to be? Cornmeal obliges. It can be smooth or coarse, thick or thin, yellow or white or blue or red. It can be soft, like porridge. It can be firm enough to cut into circles or stars or elephants, if you want to eat elephants. A sprinkling of cornmeal can slide a pizza into the oven, or coat baked chicken with a delicate crust, or transform into the cornbread that's just perfect with barbecue.

Cooking or baking?

Storage/shelf life:
Stoneground cornmeal has a very short shelf life: a month in the cupboard, two months in the refrigerator, four months in the freezer. Commercially produced cornmeal (the kind you buy in a canister in the supermarket) has been degerminated, which lengthens the shelf life but also removes some of the flavor; you can store the supermarket cornmeal for a year in the cupboard, and up to two years in the freezer. In either case, once you've opened the package of cornmeal, store the leftover in a glass container with a tight-fitting lid, or in a heavy freezer container.

Pantry ingredients in this recipe:
Cornmeal (more facts and ingredient photos)
Tomato paste
Worcestershire sauce

Polenta with wild mushroom ragou

Polenta with wild mushroom ragout

Everyone omnivore needs at least one glorious vegetarian entree for entertaining in their repertoire. This is mine. I've been making it for so many years that I've lost track of the original source (Gourmet, maybe?), and if I ever find it, I'll update the notes here. You need a very flavorful broth for this dish, something like a mushroom or roasted vegetable broth (or beef broth, if you're not making this vegetarian). Special thanks to my friend Bob Fishman who took the dramatic stovetop photo at the top of this post. My polenta never looked more like a star -- or a whole galaxy of stars. Serves 6-8.


1 large onion, chopped fine
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried rosemary, crumbled, or 2 tsp minced fresh rosemary, or 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb cremini or white mushrooms sliced thin
1 lb fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, quartered
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1-1/3 cups mushroom broth (or beef broth)
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
6 cups water
2 cups yellow cornmeal
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/3 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 lb mozzarella cheese, shredded


Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray a 3-quart casserole dish or clay cazuela with cooking spray (like PAM) and set aside. Spray a sheet pan with cooking spray and set that aside, too.

Make the mushroom ragout: In a large deep skillet, heat 3 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Cook onion, garlic and rosemary, stirring occasionally until the onion is softened. Add mushrooms and salt to taste, and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, for 10 minutes or until the liquid the mushrooms gives off is evaporated. Stir in tomato paste and the wine, and boil until most of the liquid is evaporated. In a small bowl stir the cornstarch into the broth, add the mixture and the Worcestershire sauce to the mushroom mixture (this is now the ragout), and bring it to a boil, stirring. Reduce heat to simmer and cook 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Turn off the heat and set aside.

Make the polenta: In a large, heavy saucepan, bring the water with 1 Tbsp olive oil to a boil and add 1 cup of the cornmeal, a little at a time, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to low, add the remaining 1 cup cornmeal in a slow stream, stirring constantly, and bring mixture to a boil. Remove pan from the heat and with a wooden spoon stir in the butter, 2/3 cup of the parmesan, the parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.

Spread 1/3 of the polenta on the sheet pan to 1/4 inch thick, and chill for 20 minutes, or until it is firm. While it is chilling, working quickly, spread half the remaining polenta in the prepared casserole dish or cazuela, top it with half the mushroom ragout, and top the ragout with the mozzarella. Spread the remaining polenta quickly over the mozzarella and top with the remaining ragout.

Invert the polenta sheet onto a work surface and with one or more star-shaped (or any other shape) cookie cutters, cut out as many stars as possible (use different sizes for a nice effect). Arrange the stars decoratively on the ragout and sprinkle with the remaining parmesan. The dish may be prepared up to this point and refrigerated, covered, for up to 2 days.

Bake uncovered in the upper third of the oven for 30-40 minutes, or until the polenta stars are golden.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Polenta, squash and cheese loaf
Lemon-currant biscotti
Cheese-y cornmeal cakes
Baked polenta with braised wild mushrooms
Lemon-thyme cornmeal cookies

Other recipes that use cornmeal:
Cornmeal crusted salmon with mussel broth, from Guilty Kitchen
Cornmeal honey muffins, from Lisa's Kitchen
Blue cornmeal crusted green chiles, from Use Real Butter
Blueberry corn muffins, from Gluten-Free Goddess
Arepas, from Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


This looks absolutely delicious. Thank you for including vegetarian recipes!

Love the combination of polenta and wild mushrooms. We have an Italian restaurant here that serves that dish and I always order it. Now you've got me wanting to make pretty polenta stars!

You are so right about cornmeal! I bring my real stonemill ground from Serbia every time I visit and it is a cherished ingredients. Kids enjoy eating it as porridge, with cottage cheese and cream cheese, or with plain yogurt, or with a bit of brown sugar and milk, as a "breakfast dessert".
Mushroom ragout and corn meal? A heavenly combination in my book.
And I bet my girls would love the stars!

Looks and sounds fabulous! Thanks for sharing your favorite go-to vegetarian company dish. Love that it can be made ahead of time!

I love the idea of using cutters to make the different shapes. That will be a great addition to the holiday table.

This looks wonderful...polenta is one of my new favorite things. However, I try to cook things I know my kids will eat, and I know my son would not touch it if he knew mushrooms were involved.

Any ideas on a suitable mushroom substitute that wouldn't change the character of the dish too much?

Just beautiful, Lydia! Question, does it come out in neat squares like lasagna or is more scoop-y, like a stew?

For years, I have been promising myself that I would make polenta -- your recipe has inspired me to quit procrastinating and do it! (I think I'm reluctant because I fear my husband won't like it and I'll end up eating it all myself!) But I'm going to do it this weekend!

Jackie, there are lots of vegetarian recipes on this site, but this is one of my very favorite entrees, especially for entertaining. Half of my Thanksgiving guests are vegetarian, and I'm always looking for beautiful main dishes to serve.

Toni, it's a classic combination. I love the earthy mushrooms with the creamy polenta, and I make different configurations (not always in this casserole form).

Lana, I've never thought to make a breakfast dish with cornmeal and cottage cheese. How intriguing!

Countrygirl, for the holidays especially it's great to have some make-ahead vegetarian dishes on the menu.

Ivy, yes, you can go in any direction with the shapes of the cutouts. Might be a great way to get kids to try this!

Tim, I think any kind of "stew" would work. Maybe ratatouille? Or caramelized onions and leeks?

Alanna, you can see in the second photo that it comes out somewhere inbetween! The longer it rests before you serve it, the more it sets. Just like lasagne.

Rosemary, fear not! It's easy. And think of polenta like ice cream; you can use any kind of mix-ins!

Wow - would I love a spoonful of this! The stars are gorgeous. I learned a few techniques for mushroom ragout in Italy, but there, we grilled the polenta, which was quite nice.

WOW!!!! what a delicious looking dish! Call me crazy or just call me a carnivore but I am thinking "pulled pork" in sauce under those stars would be fantastic! Or maybe even a "shepard's pie"!!

So many things you can do with cornmeal! Have you ever made or eaten spoon bread, Lydia? It is wonderful - a sort of cornmeal souffle, as it were. I can provide a recipe if needed.

Um, I'm not into polenta even though I realize it's a rather chi-chi food the last few years. But the Mushroom Ragout looks very hearty and tasty for a winter meal. How about making corn dumplings to put on top? Something just a little lighter than polenta which has it's roots in America (corn is quintessentially American) and Italy where polenta is popular. (Anytime there's a recipe called "Ragout" a very thick sauce with veggies - I'm in!!)

TW, grilled polenta with wild mushrooms was such a popular dish on the menu of one Boston restaurant that, when they tried to change their menu, the customers made a huge fuss!

Carol, lots of fillings would work in this type of dish, but not for vegetarians!

Teresa, I'd love to try one of your recipes.

Dmmfoodie, all recipes are just suggestions. Please put your own stamp on it! Corn dumplings would be delicious.

This is a beautiful recipe! Lovely for a chilly fall evening.

I went googling for exactly this recipe from years ago with the polenta stars (searched polenta wild mushroom stars” in fact!). I’m in the wrong house with vegetarians guests coming spur of the moment and soiled recipe not in hand. A staple in my house for likely 20 years. Perfect!

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