Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Slovenian Dinner Week 31: Polenta with Crimini Mushrooms and Smokin' Paprika Chicken Breasts

Polenta with Crimini Mushrooms
Smoked Paprika Chicken Breasts
Dandelion Salad with Marinated Mushrooms

Slovenians are mushroom lovers and this week's dinner featured them two ways: Baked in polenta and marinated in the salad.  It also included a simple chicken entree that turned out to be a real find.              

I built this dinner around a layered polenta-and-mushroom recipe I found in one of my vintage cookbooks, Woman's Glory: The Kitchen. I just needed a simple entree that would complement this rich but slightly heavy side dish.  In one of my favorite blogs, The Shiksa in the Kitchen (!) I discovered the perfect solution: An easy chicken breast dish with a paprika flavor that would fit in well. To round out the meal, I created a green salad in the Slovenian spirit.

So the dinner was a real mixed bag: traditional, contemporary, and Slovenian-inspired. And I also rediscovered an old-fashioned cooking technique I first learned from my mother, pounding meat into thin cutlets.

Polenta with Crimini Mushrooms

1 c. corn grits or polenta, cooked in boiling salted water as directed
1 c. brown crimini mushrooms, sliced
6 T. nonfat Greek yogurt  (or cream)
4 T (or more)  grated smoked gouda, or other sharp cheese, like parmesan
salt and pepper
2-3 T. butter
matzo meal (or bread crumbs)

This looked like an intriguing dish: Three layers of cold, cooked polenta alternating with two layers of a simple mushroom-cheese filling.  I made a few changes, in adapting the original recipe.

First, prepare the polenta, using the method that works best for you, and keeping in mind the package directions.  I added the polenta gradually to 2 cups of boiling water, and then simmered and stirred for 30 minutes.  Many recipes call for more water and longer stirring, which might have been better.  Or use the fast-cooking variety!

The original recipe called for pouring the cooked polenta into a round or rectangular dish, and then slicing the cooled polenta horizontally into three layers. I thought that might be tricky. So I poured the cooked polenta into a single slab on a lined cookie sheet, roughly three times the size of the loaf pan I planned to use, and then cut it into three oblongs to fit.

Butter the pan you wish to use and sprinkle with matzo meal (or bread crumbs.)  Add a layer of polenta and dot with butter.  Layer the filling ingredients in this order: half the sliced mushrooms, salt and pepper, half the yogurt, and half the grated cheese. Repeat.
End with a layer of polenta and sprinkle with additional cheese.

The quantities of butter and cheese are approximate, because I added more than the modest quantities suggested in the recipe.  So use your own judgement.

Cover and bake for at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour.  Remove from pan, slice, and serve.

The verdict:  Tasty.  Another one of those recipes that seemed too simple to be believed. I was especially worried about the raw sliced mushrooms.  But they were good and surprisingly rich-tasting, maybe because they were those brown criminis.

The dish was a little dry, probably for two reasons:  Not enough water in the polenta, and my substitution of nonfat Greek yogurt for cream.  Next time, I will use regular yogurt or cream.

The rest of the dinner complemented this polenta very well.  I think I may have found an entree and a salad that will become staples in my future Slovenian dinners.  For those recipes, see the next post.

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