Polenta con Marinara di Funghi - a way to feel fancy while you really indulge in a simple polenta with mushroom marinara

To anyone who thought their final semester at college was a joke, I have to say, I’m jealous. I always thought of senior year, particularly the spring semester, as more of a formality – I’d only have classes a few days a week rather than the full five, I wouldn’t start class early in the morning and wouldn’t stay late in the day, and the classes wouldn’t be all that demanding. What a dream that would be! Nutrition does not afford such luxuries. I’m sure many other majors are the same. The classes I’m taking now are the most rigorous I’ll ever have, and I find myself waking up at 7 in the morning on weekends and not finding time to breathe until nearly 9 at night. I’ve had to stage several self-interventions as the stress escalated within me, and by the end of the day I collapse into bed and am shocked when I hear my alarm going off just minutes later – or so it seems.

It goes without saying that I have been craving comfort food, and one of the most satisfying dishes I’ve found to alleviate stress and exhaustion is polenta. It’s smooth and creamy, warm and filling. It’s like a pillow for my taste buds to relax on. In fact, this mushroom and polenta mélange was exactly what I needed, with flavors that work well together and a warmth to it that transcends just physical temperature and actually soothes you. The recipe also yields an alarming amount of food, yet it amounts to just about 450 calories if you eat the full serving, so you can feel like you’re stuffing yourself into a stupor (thus satiating that all-too-pesky compulsion to eat when stress gets the better of you) without actually doing too much caloric damage. Now that’s what I’m talking about.

Lastly, I want to say that I hope the name I devised for this dish doesn’t offend anyone. I know very little about Italy or true Italian culture: I barely speak a lick of the language and I’ve certainly never visited the country. However, I am currently reading Under the Tuscan Sun, and although this by no means makes me even remotely knowledgeable of Italian culture, it has sparked in me a little bit of inspiration. This polenta dish may be worlds away from authentic. The name I created for it may be butchering the language. I certainly hope not. But something as fluid as “Polenta con Marinara di Funghi” seems to embody this dish so much more appropriately than the all too boring “Polenta in a Tomato-Mushroom Sauce” that it really is. Again, I mean no harm, and freely admit my ignorance. It just sounds pretty, you know?

Polenta con Marinara di Funghi (Polenta in a Tomato-Mushroom Sauce)
Yield: 2 servings

The Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic
¼ cup chopped onion
1 ½ cups chopped baby bella mushrooms
1 ½ cups (no salt added) diced tomatoes
½ cup (no salt added) tomato sauce
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1-2 teaspoons dried thyme
3 cups water
2 teaspoons (no salt added) chicken bouillon1
½ cup instant polenta
1-2 tablespoons pesto
½ - 1 cup spinach, chopped or torn
2 tablespoons chopped, fresh basil

The Method
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and onion and sauté 5 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms and continue sautéing for an additional 3-5 minutes. Finally, add the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, oregano, and thyme to the skillet. Bring the mixture to a simmer and continue to simmer over low heat.

Meanwhile, in a separate pot, boil the water with the bouillon added. Pour the polenta into the boiling water and remove from the heat, stirring constantly until it thickens and bubbles. Pour it onto a lipped platter or bowl, allowing it to spread out in a rustic, imperfect way if possible.

Remove the mushroom sauce from the heat and stir in the pesto and spinach. Pour the sauce over the polenta and sprinkle with the chopped basil.

1For a fully vegetarian meal, feel free to use vegetable bouillon (do they make that?) or replace the water-bouillon combination with vegetable stock. I only use chicken bouillon because that’s what I keep in my pantry.


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