This creamy, cheesy, lentil 'polenta' is a wonderful base for flavourful mushroom ragu. (Skip to recipe.)
The more I cook with lentils, the more I am in awe of the versatility of this nutritious little legume. I mean, what other food can so easily jump from being the star of a decadent sweet treat to the base of a savoury main course, like this German stew or these crispy fries? Lentils are amazing chameleons in the kitchen.
And today, they dazzle in another unexpected variation - lentils shine as the main ingredient in this sumptuous and satisfying polenta (or polentila, as I like to call it 🙂 ). The smoothness and mild, earthy flavour of split red lentils adapts easily to this normally corn-based dish. Grinding the lentils in the blender to a coarse flour creates a creamy texture with a bit of 'nubbiness' that is a lovely foil for the rich and toothsome mushroom ragu. The result is a satisfying, soul-warming dish.
We are still in the deep of winter here in northern Alberta (and I turn green, green, green with envy when I hear that the cherry blossoms have already appeared in Vancouver - there is just no justice!)
So, as you can see, winter warming dishes are still in order around here, and a steaming bowl of this hearty lentil polenta with mushroom ragu is just the thing to fill our bellies and keep us toasty.
You can have this delicious dinner on the table in half an hour - more time to hibernate and curl up with a good book.
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Kitchen Frau Notes: I've used dried mushrooms to intensify the flavour in this ragu. I buy them in a large quantity from Costco, but they can also be bought in smaller packets, often in the produce section of the grocery store, or in larger bags in Asian food markets.
When grinding the lentils in the food processor, it's best to do them in two batches. I've specified to transfer them to a small bowl or spouted measuring cup so they can be poured in a steady stream into the boiling water. If you try to pour them from the blender, they will clump - I know from experience! There will also be less chance of clumping if you make sure to use a large enough saucepan to cook the polenta in, so that you can quickly and vigourously whisk the mixture. However, if you do get a few clumps, they can usually be whisked out, and don't affect the rich, delicious flavour of this unique 'polentila'.
- 1½ ounces (43gms/about 2 cups) dried mushroom, any variety or a mixture
- 2 cups (480ml) boiling water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 stalk celery
- 1 lb. (450gms) button mushrooms (or a mixture of whatever is available)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (gluten-free or vegan, if necessary)
- ½ cup (120ml) red wine
- 2 large plum tomatoes or 1 cup (240ml) quartered cherry tomatoes
- Parmesan cheese to garnish, optional
Rinse the dried mushrooms and place them in a bowl. Pour over the boiling water, and let soften for at least 15 minutes.
In a dutch oven or heavy bottomed deep skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Dice the onion and celery and add to the oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft - about 5 minutes.
Mince the garlic and add it to the onions. Cook for 2 more minutes.
Slice or quarter the mushrooms - cut small ones in half.
Add the mushrooms, salt, and pepper to the onions in the dutch oven. Cook for 5 minutes, until the mushrooms release their juices.
Scoop the soaking dried mushrooms out of the soaking water and squeeze them lightly to drain them, reserving the soaking water. Place the mushrooms on a cutting board and chop them coarsely.
Add them to the sauteing vegetables. Then add the reserved soaking liquid, pouring in all but the last tablespoon or so, to avoid the sandy grit that has settled at the bottom.
Add the tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce and wine. Bring the ragu to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes, until the liquid has thickened to a sauce. Turn the heat to very low and keep warm while you make the polenta.
Just before serving, add the diced tomatoes, and turn the heat back to medium. Cook for 2 minutes, just to heat the tomatoes through.
Serve over Lentil Polenta. Garnish with shavings of Parmesan cheese.
Lentil Polenta (Po-lentil-a)
- 1½ cups (280gms) split red lentils
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 3½ cups (840mls) water, plus more to thin the mixture if needed
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup (120ml) grated Parmesan cheese (or vegan substitute)
- 2 tablespoons butter (or vegan substitute)
In a blender, process the lentils until they are like a flour with some coarser, cornmeal-sized bits. Blend them in 2 batches, if necessary. Pour them into a spouted measuring cup or a small bowl. Stir in the onion powder.
Pour the water into a large (2 or 3 quart) saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium, and remove the saucepan from the burner. Whisking vigourously and continuously with one hand, pour the ground lentils into the water in a steady stream.
Replace the whisk with a wooden spoon and return the saucepan to the burner. Cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes. The mixture will be quite thick.
Add the salt, Parmesan cheese, and butter, and stir until well combined.
Serve immediately. If the mixture sits too long before serving, it thickens up considerably, but can be thinned out again by stirring in more water until it is creamy again.
Ladle into bowls and top with Mushroom Ragu.
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