Ominous dark clouds, rain, and muddy roads in the French country side. Last week, when we visited my parents in their country house in France, my mom put the perfect dish on the table for this kind of weather. She made a ‘pie’ with a polenta crust, caramelized onions, and blue cheese, and served it with guinea hen. I borrowed her idea of the polenta bottom, but turned it into a simple main dish with leeks, mushrooms, gruyère cheese, and tarragon. A pie to get you through those last dark weeks of winter!
Some notes: This recipe is as easy as pie! The only important thing is to let the polenta bottom cool before topping it, or else it will get soggy. It’s a soft bottom, it has nothing to do with a pizza or pie crust. I love tarragon, but I know there are many people out there who hate the anise flavor of this herb. If so, just leave it out or substitute it with any other herb of your liking. If the ‘pie’ is not cheesy enough for you, you can crumble over some blue cheese. That’s what my husband did.
Serves 4 hungry people
Action Time: 30 minutes, plus cooling
1 liter/ 4 cups of good vegetable stock
200 g/ 1 cup yellow polenta
200 g/ 7 oz gruyère cheese, coarsely grated
3 tbsp olive oil
4 medium leeks, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
400 g mixed mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
a few sprigs of tarragon
Extra: baking sheet covered with parchment paper, paper towel
1. In a pan, bring the stock to a boil. When boiling, gradually whisk in the polenta and stir constantly until the polenta thickens, about 5 minutes. Add some extra stock or water if the polenta gets too thick. Remove from the heat and stir in 75 g/ 2.5 oz gruyère cheese, and, if needed, add more salt and pepper (be careful when tasting, the polenta is very hot). Immediately spread the polenta out on a baking sheet, make a layer of about 1,5 cm/ 1/2 inch thick and let it cool. You can prepare this well in advance and can even keep it in the fridge for a day or so.
2. Preheat the oven to 200 C/ 400 F. Heat half of the olive oil in a large pan. Add the leeks and cook for several minutes until soft. Put the leeks in a bowl and wipe out the pan with a paper towel. Heat the rest of the olive oil and add the mushrooms, garlic, and a some chopped tarragon leaves. Cook for several minutes, stirring, until the mushroom start losing their liquid. Add the leeks, season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and stir in the rest of the gruyère cheese.
3. Spread the topping over the polenta. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let it sit for 5 minutes. Grind over some pepper and sprinkle over some tarragon leaves. Cut into pieces and serve with a salad (I served it with a watercress and Belgian endive salad).