Three mushroom varietiesdried porcini, cremini and shiitakegive this ragu its deep, earthy flavor. The green olives add a zippy counterpoint. Despite being low in fat, the sauce is rich, so a little goes a long way, especially when paired with Golden Polenta. The method for cooking the cornmeal, which results in a beautifully textured polenta without the need for constant stirring, is adapted from a recipe by the grande dame of Italian cuisine, Marcella Hazan.
To make Golden Polenta: Bring 7 cups water to a boil in large stockpot, and add salt. Whisking constantly, slowly sprinkle polenta or cornmeal into pot by handful, letting it trickle through fingers. Reduce heat to medium-low, and cook and whisk constantly for 10 minutes. Cover pot, and cook for 10 minutes more.
Uncover, and stir vigorously with wooden spoon. Cover again, and cook 10 minutes more. Repeat two more times for a total cooking time of 40 minutes. Uncover, and continue stirring for 10 minutes. Pour polenta onto large 10×14-inch baking pan, spreading it to a thickness of about 1/2 inch. Set aside to cool. Once cooled, cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
To make Wild Mushroom Ragu: Place dried porcini mushrooms and 2 cups lukewarm water in small bowl to soak for at least 30 minutes. Remove mushrooms from bowl, squeezing gently and letting liquid drain back into bowl. Coarsely chop mushrooms, and set aside. Strain mushroom liquid through coffee filter or dampened paper towel to remove grit, and set liquid aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, and sauté until softened, for about 10 minutes. Add garlic and rosemary, and cook, stirring often, until lightly browned, for 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer mixture to large heatproof cast-iron casserole.
Deglaze skillet with 1/2 cup red wine, scraping up all browned bits. Cook over medium-low heat until liquid is reduced by half, for about 10 minutes. Add to onion mixture.
Wipe skillet clean with paper towel. Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add half cremini mushrooms and pinch of salt and pepper. Sauté until excess liquid cooks away and mushrooms begin to brown, for about 5 minutes. Transfer mushrooms to casserole, and without cleaning pan, repeat process with remaining cremini, followed by shiitakes. Transfer each batch to casserole.
Deglaze skillet with remaining 1/2 cup red wine, scraping up browned bits. Add reconstituted porcini and strained mushroom liquid, and cook over medium heat until liquid is reduced by half, for 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer mixture to casserole.
Squeeze whole tomatoes to break them up, and add with juices to casserole. Stir in tomato paste, vegetable stock, parsley and olives. Cook over medium-low heat for 15 minutes to blend flavors, and adjust seasonings.
To serve, heat broiler. Cut polenta into 16 wedges, brushing lightly with olive oil, and place on sheet pan under broiler, cooking until golden brown, or for about 6 minutes. Turn pieces over, and broil for 5 minutes more. Remove from oven, place 2 wedges polenta on individual plates and top with hot mushroom ragu.
This calls for a bold Brolio Chianti Classico or a Ruffino Chianti Classico, the perfect wines for such a dish. Grab a big glass of rich, ruby-red wine, and enjoy this cold-weather meal.