Meatless Monday: Mushroom and tomato thyme stew with polenta gnocchi

A new use for polenta – as a gnocchi with simmering hot stew on top.

Beyond The Peel
Mushroom and tomato thyme stew with polenta gnocchi.

Since my Breakfast Polenta post, I have had a hard time getting polenta off the brain. Not only does it have the benefits of being gluten free but is kind of a shape shifter of sort. It can go from a creamy style mash all the what to a slice of “bread” with very little change in the recipe, which is pretty handy.

I thought I’d try my hand at polenta gnocchi. Now all the recipes I found instructed pouring the polenta mixture (there are many recipes out there for polenta, just find one you like) out onto a working surface, allowing it to cool (30 minutes) and cutting out a shape with a small cookie cutter, layering the pieces in a pan, with sauce in between and baking for 10 minutes. But to me, that’s NOT gnocchi. It has to at least resemble the shape of gnocchi somewhat! Those tender little dough balls that almost melt in the mouth that take on the flavor of your chosen sauce so beautifully.

So this is my attempt to be different and actually make polenta gnocchi that doesn’t look like cookie cut outs.  Regardless of the form of polenta you’d like to choose, creamy or gnocchi or what have you, this stew is fabulous and flavorful piled onto any starch or eaten like a thick soup. 

I had a bunch of mushrooms to use up before they go bad, and I wanted to make something that will be quick and ready to eat for the next few days – comfort food like mushroom stroganoff but without all the fat. Tomatoes are always a reliable friend when it comes to low fat healthy sauces, so this is how this stew came to be.

The polenta gnocchi absolutely worked. It ends up being served at room temperature but with the simmering hot stew on top it’s delicious. The gnocchi process is a little fussy, so I wouldn’t bother if you’re going to serve more than 2 people. Instead, opt for making the creamy polenta or the rustic polenta.

Mushroom and Tomato Thyme Stew

1 large onion
6 garlic cloves
8 cups rough chopped mushrooms
2 large tomatoes (appx 3 cups)
1/2 cup of tomato paste – homemade – (or 156 ml can of tomato paste )
4 cups of stock (chicken, vegetable or mushroom)
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce or 1/2 tsp balsamic (for the vegetarian or vegan substitution)
grated Parmesan and fresh thyme as a garnish

Peel and slice the onion in wedges. Mash and peel the garlic cloves and roughly chop. In a large, heavy bottomed pot, cook the onions and garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil for 3 minutes or until the onions are translucent. Meanwhile clean and chop 8 cups of your choice of mushroom (I know it sounds like a lot but mushrooms cook down to nothing). Add the mushrooms to the pot and cook while you prepare the remaining ingredients.  Dice 2 large tomatoes and add all the remaining ingredients to the pot. Simmer for 1  hour and 15 minutes or until the sauce has thickened to a stew like consistency.

Polenta

 1 cup coarse cornmeal
3 cup water
1 cup milk (or water)
1/2 cup grated parmesan (optional)
2 tablespoons butter or oil of choice
1/2 tsp salt (more if you like)
fresh ground pepper

Bring liquids to a boil. Add the cornmeal in a steady stream while whisking continuously for 3 minutes, making sure there are no lumps. Simmer for 25 minutes, stirring every few minutes as to not scorch the bottom. Add the remaining ingredients and season with salt and pepper. Prepare a clean dry surface. Using parchment paper or a wood cutting board works great.

For gnocchi: Fill a glass with cold water. Using a small spoon, scoop a teaspoon of the polenta mixture and drop it on a clean dry surface, dipping the spoon in water in between scoops. These will set in 5 minutes. Scoop up with a spatula and top with the Mushroom  and Tomato Stew.

For creamy polenta: scoop some polenta right into individual bowls or plates and top with the stew.

Alternately for a rustic style polenta, pour the polenta onto a cutting board and spread out to 1 inch thick using a wet wooden spoon. Allow to set for 15 minutes. Cut into individual size pieces and serve with the stew.

Related post on Beyond The Peel: Breakfast Polenta Cakes with Blackberry Syrup

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