Make Ahead

Creamy Polenta with Sautéed Apples, Mushrooms, & Calvados

October  2, 2013
Photo by James Ransom
Author Notes

Once upon a time, in my small country in the Balkans, the arrival of apples marked the arrival of cold, rains, and winds. The apples would tell us that the winter was right around the corner, that for many months to come we would be eating beans and mushrooms, polenta and sauerkraut, roots and nuts. The apples would say that the food would be brown, that reds and yellows would come in spots—a contribution to the meal from preserves prepared lovingly throughout the summer, though a tiny contribution, as no household had a pantry large enough to accommodate a jar of color for every cold day. And as magnificent as 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

Test Kitchen Notes

WHO: QueenSashy is a contest veteran (not to mention a scientist by day, blogger by night).
WHAT: Super-comforting polenta gets a dose of autumn via a sauce of mushrooms, apples, and apple brandy.
HOW: Stir together a savory herbed sauce of shiitakes, Gala apples, and Calvados while a pot of polenta bubbles away. Spoon into bowls, sigh deeply, and eat.
WHY WE LOVE IT: This dish is elegant enough for company and brimming with autumnal coziness. The sage and apple cream sauce paired with the rib-sticking polenta is a rich and impressive expression of the season. A bit of extra Calvados will ensure even more of that complex brandy flavor—and be sure to season it all well. —The Editors

  • Serves 6
  • For the polenta
  • 1 1/2 cups coarse polenta
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons butter
  • Pinch salt (about 1/2 teaspoon)
  • For the sauce
  • 2 small Gala apples (about 6 ounce each), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 8 ounces shiitake mushrooms
  • 2 small shallots (about 4 ounces total), finely chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 3 to 4 sage leaves, chopped
  • Pinch fresh marjoram
  • 1/4 cup Calvados
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons sunflower oil
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons flour
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
In This Recipe
  1. 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 to 15 minutes, until the polenta bubbles assume a 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.
  2. 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 the caps.
  3. In a medium saucepan, heat about a tablespoon of sunflower oil over medium heat. Add in the shiitakes and cook for about 3 minutes, until browned and soft. Remove the shiitakes from the pan, and keep them in a medium-sized bowl.
  4. 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.
  5. Deglaze the pan with Calvados and pour the sauce over the apples and mushrooms.
  6. In a separate pan, heat a tablespoon of sunflower oil, add the shallots, and cook for about 2 to 3 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 pour 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.
  7. Pour the polenta onto individual plates. Spoon the sauce on top and garnish with herbs. Serve warm.

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Aleksandra aka QueenSashy is a scientist by day, and cook, photographer and doodler by night. When she is not writing code and formulas, she blogs about food, life and everything in between on her blog, Three Little Halves. Three Little Halves was nominated for 2015 James Beard Awards and the finalist for 2014 Saveur Best Food Blog Awards. Aleksandra lives in New York City with her other two halves, Miss Pain and Dr. V.