Back in July, we joined a cycling group. We’d meet at the local Stop ‘n Shop parking lot on Friday and Sunday mornings at 8:30, then head out for a 30-mile ride, give or take ten miles. Sometimes, there are four of us; on popular mornings, we can number close to 20. I love riding in a pack, riding with different people at different moments, sharing stories, learning about this new group of people with whom we have at least one thing in common. And that would be tight, unflattering, padded lycra shorts.
On a recent weekend, hearing that rain was in the forecast for Sunday, we broke off from the pack’s plan and chose to ride on Saturday afternoon. By the time the tires and water bottles were filled and we had convinced Remy that she’d survive with the loads of treats scattered around the kitchen floor, it was close to four. Kinda late for a Fall afternoon…
Since our little hamlet is fairly high in the mountains, everything around us is downhill. Makes for a thrilling beginning of a ride, but a treacherous finish. Nevertheless, I love the freedom of flying down the winding tree-filled roads, slaloming through the mounds of potentially slippery leaves. Once we flatten out, the ride opens up to acre upon acre of thrashed cornfields. We cross the main thoroughfare five or six miles in, bump over the sleepy railroad tracks and head north for about five more miles. Once we turn around, it’s a fairly steep mile up to the summit, where Massachusetts meets Salisbury, CT. We take a sip from our bottle, snap a few shots, then clip back in. Then, once again, it’s a steep dive down a winding, narrow road into into the sleepy village of Ashley Falls.
Our friends E and G own a terribly chic and cozy house in the heart of town. Seeing both of their cars in the driveway, we called out from the road and they waved us in.
We have porch envy with these guys. Not only is theirs longer and more spacious, it’s a double decker, with upstairs replicating the one below. We slipped off our floor-damaging cycling shoes and settled in to shoot the shit for about an hour. How relaxing it felt without a meal to worry about, or plans to rush out to. Not that we don’t live for the dinners we host, but every once in a while, you’ve just got to do nothing. Their night would be spent eating his Veal Saltimbocca and watching the rest of “Bloodline” while ours entailed trying out a Danish drama called “Borgen” over polenta and mushrooms.
Who knows where certain cravings come from? All I know is I woke up that morning craving mushrooms and polenta. Wise us, we’d bought all the ingredients earlier in the day, before we exhausted ourselves, and before the sun went down.
“We’d better get going if we want to make it home before dark,” Bertrand said, rising with his shoes in his hand. “Let’s leave our friends to their Bloodline and Saltimbocca.”
Oh, that. We still had to pedal home. Another five miles, or six. In, basically, the dark. I turned my front and rear lights to blinking mode. Bertrand didn’t even have a back light, so I stayed behind him–very closely–so cars could see us.
That last leg was scary. And stupid of us. Two barely-seen figures hugging the right side of the road, with only a tiny and tired blinking pink light to alert drivers of our presence. Fortunately, maybe one car passed us on this last climb.
Remy was bouncing off the kitchen door window, tail wagging and happily barking when she saw our shadows pull up to the gate. Poor thing, we’d left her in the house with no lights on, not thinking our return would be in the dark.
We slipped out of our stretchy (sweaty) clothes and into, well, pajamas, then set to work. Bertrand chopped the criminis while I made the polenta.
All told, this took just a little over an hour. The coolest part was making mushroom broth, which entailed nothing more than pouring boiling water over dried mushrooms (below, right). The aroma it emitted was intoxicating, and the extra flavor that it brought to the fresh crimini and thyme mix was incredible.
I’m sure the seven tablespoons of butter had nothing to do with it…
Polenta with Sauteed Mushrooms
- 2 cups whole milk
- 5 cups water
- 1 t salt
- 1 ¾ cups polenta or cornmeal
- 7 T unsalted butter, divided
- 2 T grated Parmesan
- ½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
- 8 ounces fresh mushrooms, wild or cultivated, sliced thin
- 2 t fresh thyme leaves
- 1 T soy sauce
- 1 T sherry
- 1 T heavy cream
In a medium-size Dutch oven, bring water and milk to a high simmer. Add salt, then stir in cornmeal slowly, mixing with a whisk to prevent clumping. Continue stirring as the mixture thickens, 2 to 3 minutes.Then, turn heat to low and continue to stir every few minutes, adding a bit of water if the polenta becomes too thick. Add 3 tablespoons butter to pot, and stir well. Once melted in, add the Parmesan. Set the covered saucepan in a pot of barely simmering water to keep it warm and keep warm.
Meanwhile, place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl, then pour about 1/2 cup boiling water over until they are fully immersed. Leave to steep for 30 minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the broth, pat dry, then chop roughly and set aside, likewise the mushroom stock. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a sauté pan, then add the garlic. Cook for about 30 seconds, then add the fresh and reconstituted mushrooms and thyme to the pan, and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes, until browned. (Check the polenta, occasionally stirring every few minutes under very low heat.) Stir in the mushroom stock to the mushroom mix and cook until it’s reduced by half. Once it is, turn the heat to medium-low and add 2 tablespoons of butter, followed by the soy sauce, sherry and cream. Allow mixture to cook until it thickens a little, then remove from heat.
Scoop polenta into single serving dishes, then pour mushrooms over. Place a sprig of thyme for garnish. Serve immediately.