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Author Notes: Once upon a time, in a small country in the Balkans, the arrival of apples marked the arrival of cold, rains and winds. The apples would say to us that the winter is right around the corner, that for many months to come we will be eating beans, sauerkraut, roots and nuts. The apples would say that the food will be brown, that reds and yellows will come in spots - a contribution to the meal from preserves prepared lovingly throughout the summer. A tiny contribution, as no household had pantry large enough to accommodate a jar of color for every cold day. And as magnificent this era of abundance is, I miss dearly the time of apples. Every year, come the apple season, I make this dish in the loving memory of the times gone by... —QueenSashy
For the Polenta
- 1 1/2 cups coarse polenta
- 1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
- 3 cups water
- 1-2 tablespoons butter
- A pinch of salt (about 1/2tsp)
For the Sauce
- 2 small gala apples (about 6 oz each), peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch cubes
- 8 ounces shitake mushrooms
- 2 small shallots (about 4 oz total), finely shopped
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 3-4 sage leaves, chopped
- A pinch of fresh marjoram
- 1/4 cup Calvados
- 1 1/2 - 2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 tablespoons sunflower oil
- A tablespoon or so of flour
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Prepare the polenta. In a medium pot or saucepan, bring the broth, water and salt to a boil. Whisk in the polenta. When the water starts boiling again, reduce the heat to low and keep on stirring for about 10-15 minutes, until the polenta bubbles assume the rhythm of their own. At this point, you can let the polenta bubble without heavy supervision, for about 45 minutes. Pay a visit to the pot to stir from time to time (a bit more often towards the end of cooking). Remove the polenta from the stove, add the butter and mix well.
- Make the sauce. Cut the mushroom caps into 1/4 inch cubes. If you are using stems (I do, except for very hard parts), make sure that you cut them into really small pieces, as they are tougher than caps.
- In a medium saucepan, heat about a tablespoon of sunflower oil over medium heat. Add in the shitakes and cook for about 3 minutes until browned and soft. Remove the shitakes from the pan, and keep them in a medium sized bowl.
- In the same pan, heat a tablespoon of butter, add the apples and cook over moderately high heat until browned, for about 3 minutes. Make sure not to overcook the apples. Add the apples to the mushrooms.
- Deglaze the pan with Calvados and pour over the apples and mushrooms.
- In the same pan, heat a tablespoon of sunflower oil, add the shallots and cook for about two to three minutes until soft. Add the garlic, and cook for another minute, until fragrant. Add the apple and mushroom mixture, sage and marjoram, sprinkle with about a tablespoon of flour, mix well and poor in the broth. Simmer for a couple of minutes over medium heat, until the sauce thickens (if needed you can always add another pinch of flour, or if the sauce is too thick a bit more broth). Add in the heavy cream, and simmer for another minute or two. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper.
- Pour the polenta into individual plates. Spoon the sauce on top and garnish with herbs. Serve warm.
- This recipe was entered in the contest for Your Most Impressive Dinner Party Side
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