Cooked and cooled polenta can be cut into shapes and grilled to make an excellent base for a tempting topping. Here the polenta is flavoured with gruyère cheese, and the topping is a savoury mixture of mushrooms, walnuts and herbs. This is delicious with a simple green salad.
Bring the stock to the boil in a large saucepan. Pour in the polenta in a steady stream, stirring with a wooden spoon to prevent lumps from forming. Cook over a low heat, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes or until the mixture thickens and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Remove from the heat and stir in the gruyère cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Pour the polenta onto a damp baking tray and spread out into a rectangle measuring about 20 x 18 cm and about 1 cm thick. Leave to cool for 1 hour or until set.
Meanwhile, put the dried porcini mushrooms in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave to soak for 20 minutes. Drain, reserving 2 tbsp of the soaking liquid. Finely chop the mushrooms.
Preheat the grill to moderately hot. Lightly brush the polenta rectangle all over with 1 tbsp of the oil. Cut into 12 fingers, each measuring 6 x 5 cm, trimming the edges to straighten them. Place, oiled-side up, on the grill tray and grill for 5 minutes or until lightly browned.
Turn the polenta slices over and grill for a further 2–3 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from the grill and keep hot.
Heat the remaining oil in a frying pan. Add the soaked dried mushrooms and the sliced chestnut mushrooms and sauté over a medium–high heat for 3–4 minutes or until softened.
Add the sherry and the reserved mushroom soaking liquid. Cook over a high heat for 1–2 minutes, stirring, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the herbs, walnuts and salt and pepper to taste.
Spoon the mushroom mixture over the warm polenta fingers. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve immediately.
Some more ideas…
*Replace 150 ml of the vegetable stock with dry white wine. *Add 1 tsp chilli powder or cayenne pepper to the cooked polenta at the end of step 1. *Polenta squares with olive paste: Cut the cooled and set polenta into squares and grill as in the main recipe. For the olive topping, blend together ⅔ cup (85 g) pitted black olives, 2 tbsp drained capers, ¼ cup (35 g) sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, well drained, 1 crushed garlic clove, 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 2 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley and salt and pepper to taste in a food processor. *If you can't find dried porcini mushrooms, you can use other varieties of dried mushrooms, though the flavour will differ.
*Polenta is fine corn or maize meal. It provides a good starchy carbohydrate alternative for those people who need to avoid wheat or gluten in their diet. *Mushrooms are a good source of copper, a mineral with many functions but particularly needed for the maintenance of healthy bones.