Sunday, April 09, 2006

No Whining -- Food for a Wine Tasting and a Polenta-Mushroom Appetizer Recipe

A while back I mentioned that I was helping to coordinate the food for a wine tasting fundraiser. Alder of Vinography was helpful in giving me some ideas, but I kind of forgot to tell him the food had to be vegetarian. We adapted his suggestions, added some of our own and ended up with a very successful evening with the guests really impressed with not just the wines but the food.

What do we serve?

For the wines? I’m ashamed to say I don’t really remember. I was too busy in the kitchen to take notes. But I know we had some reds and whites. I’ll try to get the info from the person who coordinated that and include it in a future post.

For the food? Well, THAT I remember.

Assorted olives, cheeses, crackers, baguette slices
Walnut halves, dried apricots and dates
Bruschettas with black olive tapenade or sun-dried tomato toppings
Polenta triangles with wild mushroom topping
Vietnamese spring rolls
Chocolate truffles, homemade decadent chocolate brownies, grapes

The spring rolls were based on my previously posted recipe for "not quite spring rolls." I used vegetarian “fish” sauce and filled them with either mango slices or sticks of cucumber and crushed peanuts. In addition to a hot and sweet dipping sauce, I also made a peanut-hoisin dipping sauce.

Thank goodness for volunteers. We made more than 80 each of the two types of spring rolls. With my husband pitching in and Stacy and Karen’s help, I estimate it took us close to eight hours combined to just roll the rolls.

The rolls were delicious, crunchy, sweet, sour and fun to eat all at the same time.

The brownies were luscious, rich and grown up tasting. Since I didn’t make them, I don’t have the recipe, but I am trying very hard to get it, so watch this blog!

The polenta triangles were also a big hit. The mushroom topping had a satisfying, earthy taste that would work well with some adaptations as a main dish stew. Because we were featuring the wine, not the food, that night, I kept the seasoning subdued. If you want more of a flavor punch try adding the optional red pepper flakes and/or doubling the garlic. It would have been nice if I had written down a real recipe, but I kind of made it up on the fly. Here’s how I reconstruct it. (FYI – All ingredients except the fresh thyme were purchased at Trader Joe’s.)

Polenta-Mushroom Bites
(Servings vary depending on how thick you slice the polenta and how much filling you put on each one.)

For the mushrooms

2 tablespoons grapeseed or olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound of mushrooms, mixed mild and wild (I used a simple mix of white button and brown crimini since I was cooking for 60 and trying to keep costs down), cleaned, (note: if you use Portobello mushrooms, cut off and discard the black gills underneath the caps, otherwise your mushroom mixture will come out an unappealing muddy color) stemmed and thinly sliced. Then lay the slices on their sides and slice again, almost as if you were creating thin sticks or juliennes of the mushrooms. Alternatively, you could just chop the mushrooms. Or do some combination of the two techniques.
2 ounces of dried mushrooms (porcini or other wild mushroom or mix), soaked in hot water to cover for 30 minutes or until soft. Drain mushrooms but reserve liquid. Slice as above or chop. Strain liquid through a coffee filter or cheesecloth. Discard solids.
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced (if fresh thyme use ½ teaspoon dried)
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
salt and pepper
¼ cup shredded cheese (I used a parmesan, fontina, asiago and mild provolone mixture.)

Heat oil in large sauté pan. Add garlic and sauté until golden. Add fresh mushrooms. Sauté until water is released. Add reconstituted mushrooms. Sauté until water from mushrooms is evaporated. Add in reserved, strained mushroom soaking water. Sauté a bit, add in thyme and red pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste. Sauté until mushroom mix is softened and cooked through. If mixture gets too dry add in a bit of water or stock. Stir in cheese until melted and well combined.

(To make ahead, make as above but do not add cheese. Add cheese after reheating. You may need to add more liquid when reheating.)

Polenta Triangles

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

1-24 ounce tube prepared polenta
oil or oil spray

Spray or brush cookie trays with oil
Slice polenta into even rounds about ¾ inch thick. Cut each round into thirds, so you have three more or less equal triangles from each piece. Place on prepared trays.
Spray or brush tops of polenta with oil. Bake in a 350 degree oven until slightly golden and warmed through.


Warm, baked polenta triangles (see above)
Warm mushroom topping (see above)
Shredded cheese or parmesan curls (optional)
Chopped, fresh herbs (either thyme or parsley)

Top each polenta triangle with a teaspoon or so the mushroom filling. Scatter a bit of the fresh herbs on top. (note, if using thyme, just use a pinch or so on each one). Place a parmesan curl or a sprinkle of shredded cheese on top and serve while warm.
The clean corn taste of the polenta with its slight crunch from being baked complements the richer, more complicated tastes of the mushrooms and makes for a great one or two bite appetizer.

Since they are best warm, we pressed two teen volunteers into service to pass the polenta-mushroom bites around. (Special thanks to Emma and Noah, aka Blog Appetit’s youngest son.) But honestly, the bites were still tasty even when they cooled and were fine put on a platter and left out for the party goers to help themselves.

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