Mi dai un pò di polenta per favore? – Crostoni di polenta al rosmarino e parmigiano con ragu piccante di funghi e pancetta – cavolo in padella



I have been wanting to make polenta for months now, I had this bag of polenta in my pantry, but did not have the other ingredients I needed to make what I had in mind, so I kept waiting.

Polenta has been a big part of my life, my mom used to make a huge quantity of polenta, spread it on a large wooden surface and served it with a rabbit and tomato sauce. Everyone would take a spoon and eat it from the wooden board.

Polenta prepared in Northern Italy like Lombardia or Friuli is white, it’s served sliced with prosciutto and radicchio. Basically, it replaces the bread in some households. Actually, In Milano, they cook it with milk, and top it with a mushroom sauce, more like a gravy. That is the way I ate it at my childhood friend whose parents were from Milano. I was used to the yellow polenta served with a mushroom, or rabbit tomato sauce. Two different way to prepare it.

Anyway, I found the most interesting mushrooms at the Berkeley Bowl yesterday, and I was so curious about those tiny but still chunky-legged mushrooms, that I just had to buy them. Trying new ingredients gives me some adrenaline rush, and for the particular purpose, that store is perfect.

To be really honest, I am unable to tell you the exact name of those mushrooms, the hand-written sign was unreadable, and I did some research on the web to try to find out their names and I am uncertain of what they’re called. I believe they’re shimeji. Some kind of Japanese mushroom, that has the shape of porcini mushroom but a smaller size. A Heavy stem and a small cap. It has a great flavor and I really liked the mixed flavors of those three different mushrooms.

Going back to polenta, you can buy the pre-cooked or the regular polenta that needs to cook slowly for an hour on medium or even slow heat, so if your wrist is not trained, since you have to stir for the entire hour, you will get a sore wrist and arm. If you are new to polenta and don’t have too much time for preparation and cooking, the pre-cooked kind would work fine. Unfortunately, I only had the regular one, so I had no choice than go the traditional way.

Big polenta eaters like in Friuli, have a special pot with a mechanical arm that stirs the polenta, so you just have to sit and wait.

You might not see it on the picture, but those crostoni have been carved in the middle so you can stuff them with the mushroom sauce.

Ingredients for 4

For the polenta

  • about 4 oz. pre cooked or regular polenta
  • 1 tbs rosemary, chopped
  • 1 tbs parmigiano reggiano, grated
  • 3 cups broth
  • salt

For the mushroom sauce

  • 4 slices pancetta, chopped + 4 slices whole (for decoration)
  • 5 well riped tomatoes, chopped seedless
  • 1 cup small shitakee, some sliced, some whole
  • 1 cup oyster mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cup shimeji mushrooms
  • 1 shallot
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tbs parsley
  • chili flakes to your taste
  • 2 tbs olive oil

For the cabbage

  • 1/2 cabbage, shredded
  • 1/4 yellow onion chopped
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • salt and pepper


First start preparing the polenta. Bring broth to a boil, add salt. Add rosemary, then pour polenta. Stir non stop and cook at very low heat, add water if necessary. If using regular polenta, it needs to cook for at least 40 minutes, always stirring. If using pre-cooked polenta, cook for about 7-10 minutes, and keep stirring. Add Parmesan.

When the polenta is cooked pour in a small deep dish so that the polenta has a thickness of about 1.5 inch. Let it cool. When cooled, with cut circles of about 2.5 inches in diameter. With a teaspoon, remove some of the center of each polenta circle. Drizzle with some olive oil, and brown under broiler for about 5 minutes or until the top of the polenta is golden brown. This broiling part needs to be done at the end, when the tomato sauce and cabbage are almost cooked, or the polenta will get cold.

For the mushroom sauce

Heat olive oil in a pan, add mushrooms. Cook at medium heat, until the water has evaporated, add salt and pepper. Remove from pan and set aside.

In the same pan, add olive oil, add shallot, let it brown. Add chopped pancetta, and brown the mixture. Add garlic and parsley, stir well to get the flavors out, add tomatoes and chili flakes. Cook until the sauce has reduced but do not reduce too much, there needs to be some tomato juice left. Add mushrooms and adjust with salt and pepper.

For the cabbage

Heat olive oil in a deep pot, add onion, and brown it, add cabbage, stir and add wine, salt and pepper. Cover and cook at medium heat until the cabbage is cooked.

Grill whole pancetta slices in a non stick pan.

Serve in a plate with 2 tbs of cabbage on bottom, add polenta crostoni on top. Fill the center of polenta with mushroom sauce. Add 1 grilled pancetta slice on top. Decorate with whole shitakee around the plate.