Monday, February 7, 2011

super fast, super delicious brunch

Sometimes I struggle to come up with menus, and sometimes the best ideas fall right into my lap. In the case of last weekend's brunch I got really lucky.

Recently I happened upon a link at The Kitchn for eggy, crispy, polenta with tomatoes and mushrooms, and couldn't bookmark it fast enough. The photo was fantastic, but doesn't that description sound so delicious? And then, as if on cue, Dan and I made brunch plans with some friends we don't see nearly enough. Instead of going out for overpriced eggs, they could come to our house and I'd make that very dish.

The whole trick of this recipe is that it calls for a tube of pre-cooked polenta. In the not-so-distant past, maybe I might have turned my nose up at those yellow tubes in the produce aisle at my grocery store. Polenta is so cheap and easy to whip up that buying it ready-made seemed sort of silly. 

But when it's Sunday morning and you're still in your pajamas even though brunch guests are on their way, pre-cooked polenta seems like the most brilliant invention ever. All you have to do is slice the log into rounds, dust with flour, and sear them off in a pan. Then you dress the crispy polenta up with whatever brunchy toppings your heart desires. It looks fancy but couldn't be easier to assemble. So points to The Kitchn for helping me get over another one of my snobby assumptions.

Topped with mushrooms, cheese, and poached eggs, this polenta dish was pretty much my ideal brunch. It's hearty enough to tide you over until dinner, but not so bloat-inducing that you have to sleep it off. A side of homemade sausage, and a little banana bread, and maybe a mimosa or two might be entirely unnecessary, but certainly didn't hurt.
Crispy polenta with mushrooms and poached eggs
Adapted from The Kitchn. This recipe was originally billed as being gluten-free, which it is, if you dust the polenta rounds with cornstarch instead of flour. If you are afraid of poaching eggs--I was too, before I discovered the method below--you can easily top your polenta with sunny side up eggs. The flexibility of this dish is really wonderful.
(Serves 4) 

For the polenta: 
1 18 oz. tube of cooked polenta 
2 Tbsp. flour, for dusting 
2 Tbsp. canola oil 

For the mushrooms:  
2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced thinly (I used baby portabellos)
3 long stalks fresh thyme, leaves only 
2 Tbsp. white wine, vermouth, or water
Salt and pepper

For the poached eggs (see method below):
4 eggs
White vinegar (1/2 Tbsp. per quart of water)
Salt (1 Tbsp. per quart of water)

Grated cheese (I used Gruyere, but any hard cheese will work)
Thyme springs

To cook the mushrooms, heat the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted, add the thyme leaves and mushrooms and saute until the mushrooms are slightly brown. Add the wine (or whatever liquid you're using) to the pan and stir. Cook a few minutes, more until the mushrooms are tender. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. Clean the skillet so you can make the polenta.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees. Slice the tube of polenta into about 10 1/2-inch thick slices. Using a paper towel, pat each slice dry as thoroughly as you can. Lightly dust both sides of each slice with a sprinkle of flour.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. When it is quite hot but not smoking, carefully lay the polenta slices in the pan. Don't overfill the pan, you can do this in batches, if you need to. Cook the polenta for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until crispy. Remove the cooked slices onto a cookie sheet and keep them warm in the oven while you finish.

I recently discovered Harold McGee's method for poaching multiple eggs and it works. Fill a large stockpot with water. For each quart of water, add 1 tablespoon of salt and 1/2 tablespoon of white wine vinegar (I've used apple cider vinegar in a pinch as well). Bring the water to a gentle boil. Small bubbles should reach the surface. Crack each egg, one at a time, into a small bowl or teacup and slowly lower it into the water. The eggs will all sink to the bottom of the pot. Skim off any surface egg white debris. When the eggs are cooked, they will rise to the surface of the water. Mine took about five minutes. Use a slotted spoon to carefully lift them out.

To assemble the dish, serve each person 2 to 3 polenta rounds, and top each one with a generous spoonful of mushrooms, one poached egg, a grating of cheese, and a thyme sprig. Serve immediately.


Julie said...

I am a polenta log convert, too. They seem so strange in the store, but are so fast and easy!

Unknown said...

I've always been scared to try the polenta log. Maybe it is time.

Lisa said...

Nice to see some fellow polenta log converts up in here. People, don't be afraid to admit your love of the log!

Beth said...

mmm. your photos are doing a heck of a job convincing me to make this right away!

Daniel said...

Polenta may seem quick and easy to make, but after watching Worst Cooks in America this past Sunday, I've come to appreciate the value of the log. It might just save some people's sanity and self-respect.

Helps not to call it a log, though.

musingegret said...

Lisa, you've just made me a fan for life with the link to poached eggs for a party! Can't wait to try this. When you lowered the eggs into the water, did you use tongs to hold the bowl and just push it straight down or did you tip the eggs out of the bowl after it was submerged?

Lisa said...

Beth: Thank you! Hope you like it too.

Daniel: Yes, "log" is not a nice word. I think the Worst Cooks in America would probably botch pre-cooked anything.

musingegret: Hi! I used small glass dishes (like ramekins) and tipped one end of the dish into the water, releasing the egg. I had to do this four times, for all four eggs.

I didn't mention this above, but one egg did stick to the bottom of the pot--it was the only one that didn't rise. I just poked the edge of the egg with a spoon and it dislodged and rose to the top. Just something to keep in mind.

Let me know if it works for you too!

Sarah from 20somethingcupcakes said...

Mmmmm...I haven't hosted a brunch in far too long...this looks great!

Romantic Dinner Bruges said...

Colorful and lovely polenta. Great idea for polenta. i love its and nice details shared in the post . make tips easy and i just try thanks

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I said...

I also use the polenta log, now without shame...this looks perfect, can't wait to make


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