Tonight when I sat down to plan dinner after a long day of work, I was craving some comfort food that wouldn’t leave me feeling guiltily full, and that I could also throw together quickly. As I was browsing Pinterest, my mom sent me a picture of her dinner: cheesy grits topped with Cajun spicy shrimp. After seeing her picture, I immediately had cheesy polenta on the brain.
Grits and polenta are very similar. Grits are made from white corn while polenta is made from yellow corn. But this is not the only difference. Grits are very much a part of southern cuisine while polenta has an Italian origin. Furthermore, grits are made from dent corn while polenta is made from flint corn , giving polenta a more coarse texture.
But what is the single most important important thing that grits and polenta have in common? They both taste better with CHEESE. There are several types of cheese that go well with polenta such as Parmesan or white cheddar. My favorite, however, is Gouda. Gouda has a very bold flavor, and it melts really well, giving the polenta an extra creamy texture.
I will admit, I had to try my hand at polenta several times before I got the ratio of liquid to corn grits just right. Polenta can be made with water, but it will hold a lot more flavor if made with broth. I found the perfect combination of liquids to be half broth and half milk, as the milk also adds to the creamy texture of the polenta. As for as the ratio of polenta to liquid, I’ve found that 1 cup polenta to 4 cups of liquid makes for the smoothest outcome.
Shrimp is an excellent topping for cheesy polenta, as are other meats such as braised beef. However, I was craving a vegetarian meal, so I decided to add some substance with sautéed mushrooms. Any type of mushrooms will do, but I chose to work with 6 ounces of shiitake mushrooms and 8 ounces of portobello mushrooms. The balsamic vinegar gives the mushrooms a really bold flavor, but other simple combinations, such as butter and oil, produce a really tasty outcome as well.
Top with some roughly chopped parsley and some greens on the side, (I made a quick lemon vinaigrette to dress my greens with), and your meal is complete! Check out this simple, yet detailed, recipe below.
Creamy, Cheesy Polenta with Balsamic Mushrooms
- 1 cup polenta
- 2 cups milk
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 6 oz Gouda
- 8 oz portobello mushrooms
- 6 oz shiitake mushrooms
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Thinly slice the portobellos and shiitakes.
Heat a tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the mushrooms and sautéed on medium heat until cooked, about 7-8 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar about halfway through cooking to allow to reduce. Cover and set aside.
In a medium pot, bring milk and chicken broth to a boil. Add the polenta and reduce to a very low simmer. (You will want to stir the polenta frequently while cooking, because even at the lowest setting, when it begins to thicken, it can pop quite surprisingly and splatter.)
Cook the polenta over very low heat, stirring frequently, for 25 to 30 minutes.
While the polenta is cooking, grate the cheese. When the polenta is fully cooked, add the grated cheese and stir to combine until creamy.
Add a generous amount of creamy, cheesy polenta to each plate and top with the sautéed mushrooms.
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